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Who are the best offensive, defensive players in the Mark Stoops’ era?

Josh Allen celebrated after a Citrus Bowl win in his final UK game.  (Mont Dawson Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

There’s lots of sports news out there right now. Stories on the NFL draft — who’s zooming who — plus graduate transfers are virtually flying around the country being courted by potential new schools while the NCAA is talking about approving immediate one time transfers and payment for players likenesses as early as next season.

And of course the running of the Matt Haarms Derby occurred on Thursday with Mark Pope and the BYU Cougars pulling away in the stretch to beat Kentucky and Texas Tech for his services next season.

Even with all that action occurring there are still no actual sports being played. So, knowing that the biggest news is probably still the NFL Draft, I thought I would write about football. To be more precise — UK Football.

Who would have thought at the end of the 2012 season when UK walked off the Commonwealth Stadium field on November 3rd after losing to the Vanderbilt Commodores 40-0 that 8 years later fans would be watching the 2020 NFL Draft waiting to hear where Lynn Bowden Jr and Logan Stenberg along with potentially Calvin Taylor and Ahmad Wagner might be picked?

Who would have thought that UK would have nine players drafted over that seven-year period that included two first round players, one second round pick and two third round picks? And who would think that Mark Stoops could come in as a new head coach and create a defensive factory for linebackers and defensive ends and develop some of the best offensive skill players and linemen to ever play at UK?

So along those same lines the thought occurred to me of who is the best offensive and defensive player to come out of the Stoops era at UK?

One would have to seriously look at all-time rushing leader Benny Snell Jr as the best offensive player of the era. After all, Snell dominated from his running back position two years in a row before moving on to play for the Steelers in the NFL. And although Snell was a tremendous running back during his time at Kentucky my money would have to go with Lynn Bowden Jr as the best offensive player for the Wildcats during Stoops’ time as head coach.

No one has completely dominated a game from multiple positions like Bowden. He could destroy a team with a punt return, score out of the backfield as either a running back or quarterback and could also catch the ball as a wide receiver. And as Virgina Tech and Bud Foster found out in the Belk Bowl he can also beat you with his arm. It appeared that if Kentucky had put Bowden on defense he would have found a way to pick off a pass or scoop up a fumble and score also. He is just a scoring machine. In my many years of watching UK Football I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more electrifying player wear the blue and white for UK.

As for defensive players that have played for Stoops, he has had plenty of good ones. The list would include Avery Williamson, Zadarius Smith, Bud Dupree, Josh Allen, Lonnie Johnson Jr and Mike Edwards. And although all of those players have been exceptional for Kentucky I’ve got to go with Josh Allen.

Allen was such a dominate player at the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position for UK. He was a dominate pass rusher — all-time sack leader at Kentucky — but could also stop the run and drop back into pass coverage. Allen ended up being a consensus First Team All-American, consensus Defensive Player of the Year in all of college football and was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the seventh pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He ended his first professional season as a Pro Bowl player as a rookie.

I realize that everyone probably won’t agree with those picks and a good case could be made for Benny Snell or a few other players on offense and several other players on defense, including Bud Dupree. In fact, I would love to see some of your picks in the comments section for best offensive and defensive player during the Stoops era.

So many great players have helped Mark Stoops become the third winningest head coach at UK and it still amazes me to look back to where the program was in 2012 — last in the SEC at 0-8 — to where they are today, winning two bowl games in a row and finishing in the upper portion of the SEC East three years in a row.

Great players make great plays and many of them listed above have made some great ones over the last seven years to get UK Football to where they are today, and I’m thinking where they are today is just the beginning.

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