Sleeper? MVP? Instant impact? Meet the top signees in UK's 2021 football recruiting class

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Take a closer look at Kentucky football’s 2021 recruiting class after the first day of the early signing period.

Class MVP: Jager Burton

The only signee in the class rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals, Burton elected to stay home in Lexington over offers from many of the top programs around the country. Considering former Frederick Douglass teammate Walker Parks left Lexington for Clemson a year ago, Burton’s decision added an exclamation point on a strong in-state recruiting class.

Biggest pull: Christian Lewis

For the second consecutive year, inside linebackers coach Jon Sumrall earns this distinction after going into the deep south to land a four-star prospect being pursued by several other SEC powers. Keeping Lewis in the fold despite Kentucky’s struggles to mount a credible passing attack this season makes the signing even more impressive. Without doubt, Lewis was one of the recruits UK coaches have spent the last few weeks selling on the new offensive direction. Hiring new coordinator Liam Coen on Tuesday was the final piece in that puzzle.

Kentucky football signing day tracker:Everything you need to know about the 2021 class

Biggest loss: Jantzen Dunn

Kentucky signed six of the top eight Kentucky high school seniors according to the 247Sports Composite, but the Wildcats did lose Dunn, a four-star defensive back from South Warren and the No. 2-ranked prospect in the state, to Ohio State. While UK offered Dunn a scholarship during his junior season, the Wildcats never felt like a legitimate contender for his commitment and were not even included in his final seven schools. It’s difficult to criticize the work Stoops and Vince Marrow did in the Bluegrass State in this recruiting cycle, but if Dunn develops into a start for a national championship contender, that loss will sting in the coming years.

Instant impact: Wilson Berry

Few holes on the roster will be more difficult to fill than at punter where UK is losing 2019 Ray Guy Award winner Max Duffy. Luckily, the Wildcats have dipped into the Australian punter pipeline again to sign Berry, a former professional Australian Rules Football player like Duffy and the younger brother of Pittsburgh Steelers punter Jordan Berry. Even Duffy needed some time to adjust to American football, so it would not be fair to expect Berry to be an All-American contender from day one. Still, Kentucky will hope the punt team continues to be an valuable weapon.

NFL potential: Jordan Dingle

Assuming Keaton Upshaw returns to Kentucky next season, Dingle should have some time to develop, but Coen’s offense is expected to make heavy use of play-action passes to the tight ends. At 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, Dingle has the body to develop into a dangerous receiving weapon and hold his own as a blocker. He has caught 36 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns through 11 games for Bowling Green this season and will compete for the 5A state championship on Saturday.

More: Kentucky football adds former Bowling Green star Justice Dingle as transfer from Georgia Tech

Most versatile: Chauncey Magwood

How about this scouting report? Speedy slot receiver who thrived when injuries forced his high school team to move him to quarterback as a senior. No one should expect Magwood to be Lynn Bowden, but he has the skillset to be an early contributor for Kentucky. The Wildcats need an influx of speed at receiver, and he could even contribute as a “wildcat” quarterback if Coen integrates that formation into his offense. After catching 53 passes for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, Magwood has thrown for 725 yards and rushed for 488 yards this season.

Top sleeper: Devonte Ross

It’s hard to be much more of a sleeper than Ross, who flipped his commitment from Marshall to Kentucky on signing day with almost no buzz proceeding the news. The wide receiver did not have a rating from the 247Sports Composite, Rivals rated him as a three-star defensive back and no other Power Five program has reportedly offered a scholarship. The Cartersville, Georgia, native’s highlight reel is impressive though. He totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards as a junior and has caught 36 passes for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns thus far this season.

Homegrown heroes: Jager Burton, Dekel Crowdus, Jordan Dingle, Justice Dingle, Jordan Lovett, Kaiya Sheron, La’Vell Wright

The strength of Kentucky’s 2020 class definitely lies within the Bluegrass State. Jordan Dingle and Frederick Douglass teammates Burton and Crowdus account for three of the four four-star signees in the class. North Hardin teammates Lovett and Wright could be early contributors. Somerset quarterback Kaiya Sheron should have time to learn Coen’s system with three returning scholarship quarterbacks on the depth chart, but his high school track record suggests we should not discount his chances of winning the starting job later in his career. Justice Dingle should add immediate help at outside linebacker as a transfer from Georgia Tech.

At the finish line

The unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prohibited recruits from taking official visits to schools or coaches traveling to meeting with prospects in their homes, decreased the normal amount of buzz heading into signing day. Still, there was some signing day excitement with Ross’s flip and Justice Dingle’s transfer. The lone bit of bad news on signing day was junior college linebacker Joko Willis, who committed to UK in May, elected not to sign. He could still sign in February but is reportedly receiving interest from high-profile SEC programs.

Related: Kentucky football hires Rams assistant Liam Coen as new offensive coordinator

Email Jon Hale at jahale@courier-journal.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ