UK maintains pipeline to NFL

With four players selected in the NFL draft over the weekend and several more signing as undrafted free agents, the Kentucky football program’s pipeline to the pros is as strong as ever — and it continues to serve as a recruiting boon for the Wildcats’ coaching staff.

Even following a season in which UK struggled to a second consecutive 7-6 finish, the Cats had multiple players drafted for the sixth year in a row.

The New York Giants selected cornerback Andru Phillips with the sixth pick of the third round, making him the 70th overall selection. Another early draft entrant, linebacker Trevin Wallace, was taken by the Carolina Panthers just two picks later. Running back Ray Davis went as a late fourth-round selection by the Buffalo Bills, and quarterback Devin Leary was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens.

Late Sunday night, three more former Cats were signed as free agents: Offensive tackle Jeremy Flax (Minnesota Vikings), wide receiver Tayvion Robinson (Ravens) and tight end Brenden Bates (Chicago Bears). Though undrafted, offensive lineman Kenneth Horsey also received rookie mini-camp invitations from the New York Jets and Washington Commanders.

Having the ability to develop players into NFL-level competitors has made Kentucky a popular landing spot out of the transfer portal, and 12th-year coach Mark Stoops has made a habit of regularly bringing in key, ready-to-contribute student-athletes.

Add former Michigan cornerback DJ Waller Jr. to that list.

With Phillips opting to leave Lexington through the NFL draft, Waller is expected to fill a much-needed position for the Cats. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Youngstown, Ohio, native played in 11 games as a true freshman for the national champion Wolverines last season and tallied 12 tackles with one pass break-up in a reserve role and on special teams.

Waller had been penciled in as a starter at cornerback for Michigan, especially following his interception and a key fourth-down tackle in the Wolverines’ spring game, but ultimately found a new home at Kentucky.

“DJ Waller is a long, athletic and physical player who is coming in here hungry and ready to work,” Stoops said of the former three-star prospect. “We are excited to welcome him to our Wildcat family.”

Waller, along with the addition of 6-6, 305-pound offensive tackle and junior college transfer Anfernee Crease earlier this month, becomes the 12th transfer for Kentucky ahead of the 2024 season. Currently, the Cats boast the 19th-best transfer class in the country, according to 247Sports.

UK’s current crop of newcomers also includes former five-star recruit and presumed starting quarterback Brock Vandagriff (Georgia), four-star linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (Georgia), four-star receiver Raymond Cottrell Jr. (Texas A&M) and four-star running back Chip Trayanum (Ohio State) and four-star safety Khristian Story (Alabama), among others.

The two-week spring transfer portal window closes on Tuesday.