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By LARRY VAUGHT
Randy Taylor is a 30-year veteran of college football who spent time on coaching staffs at Illinois, Nevada-Las Vegas, UCLA and Minnesota. At UCLA, he coordinated a No. 1 national signing class and several top five classes.
Taylor, who was in Cincinnati last weekend watching a high school combine, is now NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network’s football recruiting expert. He offered these other observations on Kentucky’s recent signing class.
Question: What do you like about running backs Mikel Horton/Stanely Williams and receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, the top-ranked receiver ever to sign with UK?
Taylor: “Horton to me is a top back with more than a one cut style, he can slash a bit and is smooth cutting back, he has good feet and his size allows him to power through tacklers as well as slip them. Williams is the change up back with good top end speed and can also hit the hole in a hurry, he will be a nice compliment to Horton. Both should be able to help in the passing game and Williams will be good addition to the return game.
“Snodgrass isn’t track fast but does have some quickness and change of direction skills, he does make plays downfield as I think he gains ground faster than a defensive back thinks due to his size and a bit long strides. What I expect from him going forward is that he’ll get bigger, stronger and faster to make him hard to handle. He does use his body to catch the ball too much.
“I also think Blake Bone, the kid fro South Carolina, has the size that everybody wants and I think tight end Darryl Long has a chance to be a big contributor in their offense.”
Question: Line play is key in the SEC, do did Kentucky significantly upgrade its talent on the offensive and defensive lines?
Taylor: “The most important defensive positions in the SEC and everywhere are defensive tackles and corners but it’s vital in this conference because they play against such physical O-linemen and backs and such explosive and many times big receivers. As I mentioned before my favorite players on this class are the defensive tackles and the corners because I think they can hold up in this conference.
“On offense they added some talent but it may be a bit before it pays off. Actually the center (Jervontius) Stallings may be able to help early if it becomes an issue because he’s doing it at a high level and shows some nice strength now so the transition won’t be a huge issue as long as he can make the calls.”
Question: Is this recruiting class good enough to have a dramatic impact in 2014 for a team that went 2-10 last year?
Taylor: “It depends on the definition of the word dramatic where four-five wins might be a good prediction unless things jell just right and they get a couple more wins that are toss ups. I believe the JC kids I mentioned might help right away and the rest will depend on how the returning guys. The kids I’ve already mentioned could and should play some early even if it’s just on special teams because they will be much better the next season.”
Question: In your opinion, who are the two-three players in this class that even UK fans may not truly appreciate?
Taylor: “I like (defensive end) Tymere Dubose because of his raw potential and flashes of tools could get big. (Receiver) Dorian Baker has the measurables and athleticism but is developing as a receiver, could be a surprise if he picks up the coaching he’ll get and turn that into productivity. Never count out the JC guys and (linebacker) Ryan Flannigan is one of those athletic kids who could fill a role and play a lot especially on special teams early.”
Randy Taylor has over 30 years experience in the college football recruiting ranks and has been on staffs at Illinois, UCLA, San Jose State and Minnesota as well as having his own recruiting service before joining NCSA Athletic Recruiting as a recruiting analyst and national speaker. Taylor likes what he saw from Mark Stoops’ first recruiting class at Kentucky.
“If you have an aggressive, active head coach that enjoys recruiting you’ve got a chance. His name recognition can get him in the door of recruits other coaches can’t. Take advantage of it,” Taylor, who helped recruit a No. 1 class at UCLA, said. “I would be confident if I was a Wildcat fan as I think this group can get this done. In my mind success has different levels and being in the hunt for conference titles and consistently playing in bowl games should be the short term goals.”
Taylor offered these insights on the recent Kentucky football recruiting class.
Question: How do you evaluate the first recruiting class that Stoops was able to put together at Kentucky?
Taylor: “Under the circumstances of putting the staff and organization together in a first year it was pretty good especially with key mid year prospects on campus and a couple good junior college kids to add early depth and maybe more.”
Question: Are there any major surprises to you about the class?
Taylor: “That had to be getting Jason Hatcher at the end.”
Question: Do you think this is only a sign of things to come about the emphasis he will have on recruiting in Florida and Ohio? How much could that help Kentucky?
Taylor: “Their location to Ohio and other Big Ten areas as well as the southeast states lend itself to this. Being in the SEC allows them legitimate access to any of the southeast states where by the way the most talent in the nation resides. If a midwest kid wants to play in the SEC they can go to Kentucky without much of a long drive. In the end, where they decide to spend time building relationships with high schools or already have relationships going is whee they’ll be most successful.”
Question: Who are the stars of this recruiting class in your opinion?
Taylor: “Getting Jason Hatcher at the end the decommit from USC was a great get. Za’Darius Smith, the defensive end from East Mississippi Community College is a long athlete with good quickness and a motor who’s already on campus getting into the system is huge. I like receiver Javess Blue, another junior college kid from Butler Community College. He’s an explosive kid, a playmaker and has good length. Alvonte Bell, a defensive end from Everglades, Fla., has a terrific upside and may be the sleeper of the class. Finally, I like that they got the young quarterback on campus in the spring, Reese Phillips from Signal Mountain, Tenn. He’s got the size, accuracy and can throw on time that you want in a quarterback and I think he’ll get bigger, stronger and faster at this level making him a really good prospect. Nate Willis, cornerback from Arizona Western Junior College has good size, is instinctive, quick and runs well. He can handle bigger receivers.”
Question: How does Kentucky’s signing class stack up with other SEC classes?
Taylor: “They’re in the bottom few of the conference but have some good kids throughout the list that will be contributors at a high level and some immediately. This class would be several spots higher in most other leagues.”
Question: When you think of Kentucky football, what do you think of?
Taylor: “They should win more!”
Question: What kind of long-term impact can Stoops and this staff have on recruiting at Kentucky?
Taylor: “Depends on how active coach Stoops and his staff is year in and year out in their efforts. Recruiting is a year-round job and not just with the next class. They have to make underclass prospects high priorities. Recruiting of the class of 2014 is about one-third over already.”