PowerMizzou – Checking out the comp: Kentucky

Missouri finished spring football a little over a week ago and are moving onto the next portion of its offseason, and until the transfer portal opens May 1-15 things may enter a bit of a quiet period around the program. So, while we give the Tigers a break for a little while there’s nothing stopping us from checking out what their 2023 Power 5 opponents’ rosters are looking like.

We’ve already covered Mizzou’s first three Power 5 opponents in Kansas State, Vanderbilt and LSU.

Currently, Kentucky is about a week out from its spring game, but it has made some significant roster additions to offset some of its departures.

Last season’s record: 7-6

Key departures: QB Will Levis, RB Chris Rodriguez Jr., OL Tashawn Manning, LB DeAndre Square, LB Jacquez Jones, DB Tyrell Ajian, DB Keidron Smith, DB Carrington Valentine

Key additions: QB Devin Leary, RB Ray Davis, OL Marques Cox, OL Tanner Bowles, DL Keeshawn Silver, DB JQ Hardaway, DB Jantzen Dunn

Key departures

The most significant loss for the Wildcats is obviously the loss of their quarterback Will Levis, who is expected to go in the top 10 of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Last season, Levis completed 65.4% of his passes for 2,406 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His numbers are down slightly from the 2021 season when he completed 66% of his passes for 2,826 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 11 games.

His departure will be a welcome site for Mizzou and its fans after Levis completed 13 of 19 passes for 170 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the week 10 road win over the Tigers last season.

Joining Levis in the draft will be running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. The tailback rushed for 904 yards and six touchdowns on 175 carries (5.2 yards per carry) in eight games a season ago. He’s considered to be a late-round pick.

Right guard Tashawn Manning also declared for the draft after starting 12 games a season ago. He was Kentucky’s highest-graded pass blocker at 77.6, according to PFF.

Linebacker DeAndre Square has been a fixture for the Wildcats for some time and he declared for the draft after recording 58 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and three pass deflections.

Square’s fellow linebacker, Jacquez Jones, also declared for the draft after recording 37 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a pass deflection.

Jones could be a late-round pick while Square could be floating around a seventh-round draft pick or a priority undrafted free agent. Nonetheless, that’s a pair of starting linebackers Kentucky is losing.

The Wildcats also lose three defensive backs to the draft in Tyrell Aijan, Keidron Smith and Carrington Valentine.

Aijan spent five seasons in Lexington and recorded 31 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, three pass deflections and tied for a team-high two forced fumbles last season.

Smith leaves after five seasons between Ole Miss and Kentucky. A season ago, he recorded 46 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, five pass deflections, tied for a team-high two interceptions with one being returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Valentine may be the best of the three and could be in the same boat as Square. He spent three seasons in Lexington and in 2022 he recorded 48 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a team-high 10 pass deflections and a fumble recovery.

Key additions

Despite losing a quarterback that’s largely been mocked to be a first-round talent the Wildcats picked up the No.3 overall transfer available, according to Rivals.com, in former North Carolina State quarterback Devin Leary.

In 2022, Leary completed 61.1% of his passes for 1,265 yards for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.

He only played in six contests for the Wolfpack last season after injuring his pectoral. However, in 2021, Leary was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation when he completed 65.7% for 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and five interceptions.

At running back, the Wildcats picked up someone who is familiar to them and Mizzou in Ray Davis, the former starting halfback for Vanderbilt. Davis rushed for 1,042 yards and five touchdowns on 232 attempts (4.5 yards per carry). He also proved to be a good receiving option out of the backfield with 29 receptions for 169 yards and three touchdowns. He was ranked as the 104th-best overall transfer.

The offensive line was a big struggle for the Wildcats last season, especially in pass protection. They ranked in the bottom 10 of the FBS in sacks allowed with more than 3.5 per game.

Marques Cox looks to help the Wildcats’ offensive line improve and he transferred to Kentucky after 33 straight starts at left tackle for Northern Illinois. He had a pass-blocking grade north of 88 in 2022, but it’s important to note that he only played four games last year due to injury. He was ranked as the No. 230 available transfer.

Tanner Bowles will join Cox on the offensive line after transferring from Alabama. Bowles, a Glasgow, Kentucky native, only played 40 snaps last season for the Crimson Tide a season ago. He was ranked as the No. 471 available transfer.

Defensively, Kentucky brought in defensive lineman Keeshawn Silver and defensive backs JQ Hardaway and Jantzen Dunn.

Silver transferred from North Carolina where he spent the past two seasons. Silver was a four-star prospect and the No. 88 overall prospect in the class of 2021 coming out of Rocky Mount (NC). He only played in three games last year with most of his reps coming in at defensive tackle. He was ranked as the Wildcats’ highest overall rated incoming transfer at No. 152.

Hardaway transferred from Cincinnati after spending just one season with the Bearcats. He played in 11 games and had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. He was ranked as the No. 270 overall available transfer.

Dunn, who ranked as the No.279 overall transfer, transferred to Kentucky after playing in just four games in 2022 for Ohio State. He was a four-star safety coming out of South Warren (Ky.) in 2021, but he has since made the transition to cornerback.

The departure of three of the Wildcats’ defensive backs means Hardaway and Dunn could have big roles in the secondary for Kentucky in 2023.

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