Kentucky Wildcats National Signing Day Recap: Impact Players on Defense

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Kentucky Wildcats National Signing Day Recap: Impact Players on Defense
James Crisp/Associated Press

National signing day has come and gone for the Kentucky Wildcats, and they've brought in several players who will help this team improve from the 2-10 seasons they endured in both 2012 and 2013. 

As of now, the highest ranking a recruiting service has given UK is the No. 17 ranking by Rivals, and that's because this class is full of players capable of making an impact in their first years on campus. 

Here is a look at three players who will make an immediate impact in their first years at UK.

 

DT Cory Johnson

The Wildcats entered the 2014 offseason with a massive need at defensive tackle, and they filled it with 4-star junior college defensive tackle Cory Johnson.

With UK graduating its three primary DTs from last year, UK head coach Mark Stoops had to find a player capable of making an impact on the interior for his 4-3 defense. 

That is where Johnson comes in. 

Regarded as one of the top JUCO DT prospects, Johnson signed with the Cats in December and has been on campus and part of the offseason weightlifting program as he gets acclimated to the team.

The 6'3", 282-pound defensive lineman held scholarship offers from Penn State, Arizona State, Tennessee, Syracuse, N.C. State and Miami (Fla.).

Johnson came to UK after two years at ASA Junior College where he had 49 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks.

Here's what Stoops said about Johnson, via UKAthletics.com:

Cory comes from a very successful junior college, won a lot of games. He is a very active, productive player. The fact that he led his team in tackles as a defensive lineman is very impressive. I look forward to adding a big, strong lineman to help at tackle.

The Cats now have a potential All-SEC performer at three spots on the defensive line.

Senior defensive ends Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree coming off the edge will keep Johnson free to do as he pleases on the interior.

In 2013, Dupree was named second-team All-SEC by the AP after registering seven sacks, 61 tackles, 9.5 tackles-for-loss and two fumbles forced.

Smith finished the year with 59 tackles, six sacks and 6.5 tackles-for-loss. Both players were named Third-Team All-SEC by collegesportsmadness.com.

In other words, Johnson will be getting a lot of favorable matchups and opportunities to make a play while Dupree and Smith are the ones opposing offenses will be focusing on blocking. 

Having a talented and deep defensive line is key to competing in the SEC and now that UK has that, they could quickly find themselves back in a bowl game sooner rather than later.

 

DE Denzel Ware

Speaking of talented defensive lineman, Ware signed with the Cats over offers from the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles. 

A 6'1", 241-pound terror off the edge, Ware can come in and make an instant impact along UK's defensive line.

The 4-star DE ranks as the No. 113 overall prospect, according to ESPN, and is one of the top pass rushers in the 2014 class.

SB Nation recruiting analyst Bud Elliott offered this brief scouting report on Ware:

Ware's greatest asset is his quickness at the snap. He shoots gaps inside and is also able to speed around tackles. When he uses his hands, they are pretty effective. And he makes a lot of hustle plays simply by remaining active and not quitting.

As stated previously, the Cats have two senior DEs in Smith and Dupree, so it will be hard for Ware to start any games in his freshman season.

That being said, he's far too talented to keep off the field and Stoops will find a way to use him as a situational pass-rusher.

 

Ryan Flannigan 

Linebacker was a huge area of need this offseason for UK, and unfortunately, they struck out on several prospects they were targeting to play at that position.

Four-star LB Chris Frey was their biggest miss after he committed to Michigan State over UK this summer, according to 247Sports' Sean Sherer

At that point, Stoops began looking to the JUCO ranks to find an impact LB who could come in and play immediately.

Enter Ryan Flannigan from Blinn Junior College in Texas.

According to Ben Roberts of Kentucky.com, Oregon, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Arizona State and Texas Tech were a few of the schools recruiting him before he signed with UK.

Watching his highlights, it's easy to see why a school like Oregon would recruit a player like Flannigan.

He shows he's athletic enough to move quickly from sideline to sideline and cover tight ends and is physical enough to be a thumper in run defense.

Here's what Stoops said about Flannigan, via UKAthletics.com:

Ryan is an athletic linebacker with the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. He also has good playing experience in junior college.

He's expected to come in and get immediate time at one of the three LB spots in Stoops' 4-3 defense.

He could start at MLB after Avery Williamson graduated this year, but the level of play at the two outside spots left a lot to be desired.

Josh Forrest, Kory Brown, TraVaughn Paschal and Khalid Henderson all started games at OLB, but none of them stood out enough to solidify a starting spot. 

Flannigan has a great chance to compete for significant playing time in his first season at UK, and it won't be surprising to see him start at some point. 

 

 

Jason Marcum is a student in the B/R advanced sports media program. You can find more of his work at Stripe Hype and follow him on Twitter @UK_Fans

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