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NFLDdraftScout.com has been profiling the top draft-eligible prospects going into the start of the college football season but noted that Kentucky “doesn’t appear to be loaded with the established NFL prospects” this season. It was no surprise that offensive lineman Larry Warford, who might have been drafted last year, was listed as UK’s No. 1 prospect. Here are the others NFLDraftScout.com had in the top five:
2. WR La’Rod King (6-3, 222)
Like (Stevie) Johnson (who was drafted in the seventh round), King lacks the elite measureables to warrant early round consideration. He’s a long-strider with good build-up speed and the size and willingness as a blocker to remain outside at split end. King showed improved route-running as a junior and, not surprisingly, developed into Kentucky’s most reliable pass-catcher. The focus that he demonstrated last year, however, wasn’t there during the spring as King became a father and elected to pledge a fraternity. King has publicly admitted that he was distracted during the spring and has thus far proven a different player during summer practices. NFL scouts won’t be pleased with King’s decision to put a fraternity pledge over football but a strong 2012 campaign can erase memories quickly.
3. DB Martavius Neloms (6-1, 186)
Neloms has the combination of size, physicality and experience to intrigue scouts. Also, unlike his teammate La’Rod King, Neloms demonstrated this past spring the type of committment to earn points with coaches by agreeing to switch back to cornerback (his original position with the team) after emerging in 2011 as a standout safety. Viewed as the most physical and reliable open field tackler of Kentucky’s cornerbacks a year ago, Neloms was asked to move to free safety to pair with the Wildcats’ standout Winston Guy. Neloms appears to have the straight-line speed and foot quickness to handle the move back to cornerback. He’s generally been viewed as a more reliable run defender on the outside than he has been against the pass, typically providing solid (but not ideal) coverage but closing quickly to make the tackle once the catch is made. He’ll be asked to play a great deal of press man this season and appears to have the length and toughness to remain in this capacity at the next level, though a return to safety is also possible.
4. DE Collins Ukwu (6-5, 258)
Kentucky isn’t often recognized as a strong contributor of NFL talent along the defensive line but with five Wildcats drafted within the top 100 picks over the past 10 years, it certainly have the attention of scouts. Like notable defensive tackles in recent years Ukwu didn’t sign with Kentucky as a highly regarded prospect but as a 6-5, 200 pound project. He’s since added nearly 60 pounds and has flashed the combination of burst off the snap and strength at the point of attack to result in a splashy season. The problem is, the results simply haven’t come yet. He possesses the combination of size and athleticism to keep an eye on but scouts, like the Kentucky faithful, would like to see more out of Ukwu this season.
5. OC Matt Smith (6-4, 298)
Smith signed with Kentucky as a defensive tackle but was asked to make the transition to the offensive side of the line of scrimmage in his first season, redshirting in 2008. Smith possesses good height for the center position, though he is a bit narrow in his shoulders and hips than most teams prefer. He’s a reliable snapper who shows some quickness getting to the second level when run blocking. He’s a bit stiff, however, having to gather himself to adjust to moving defenders. He does a nice job of making the line calls and shows enough lateral agility and balance to protect up the middle, though he fails to bend his knees properly and can be pushed into the quarterback with a good bull rush. Smith isn’t flashy, nor does he flash the power that helps his teammate Warford rack up pancake blocks, but he is smart and steady. If able to end his career at Kentucky with a strong senior season, Smith will have a shot at earning a late round selection or priority free agent grade.