Kentucky Wildcats’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Deone Walker, Maxwell Hairston

    These Kentucky Wildcats' top 10 returning players are looking to challenge for SEC glory under Mark Stoops in the 2024 college football season.

    The Kentucky Wildcats head into 2024 looking to improve on their 7-6 record from a year ago. With a solid defensive base and an explosive group of wide receivers, the fans in Lexington are expectant heading into the fall season. Who are the top 10 returning players for the Wildcats in the 2024 college football season?

    Kentucky Wildcats Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open fall camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) D’Eryk Jackson, LB

    D’Eryk Jackson returns to Lexington for his fifth year of eligibility after leading the Wildcats in tackles for a second consecutive season. His 89 tackles were the ninth most in the SEC, while the Georgia native also registered eight tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, one touchdown, four passes defended, and one forced fumble.

    It marked a career year for Jackson, who will lead the defense again in 2024. As one of the best linebackers in the conference, the fifth-year senior will anchor one of the strongest units on an underrated Wildcats team.

    9) J.J. Weaver, EDGE

    J.J. Weaver also returns for his final year of college football in 2024, looking to put a bow on a productive six-year career. The two-time team captain finished the 2023 season with 45 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, seven sacks, two passes defended, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble.

    The Kentucky defensive front has been one of the strongest in the SEC in recent seasons and Weaver should feast again in the 3-4 base scheme that has led to significant production.

    8) Marques Cox, OL

    Marques Cox returns for his super senior season in what will be his seventh and final year in college football. The left tackle played five seasons at Northern Illinois before transferring to Kentucky in 2023, where he started all 13 games and looked like the best offensive lineman on the team.

    With more than 3,000 career snaps in 49 career games and 46 career starts, Cox is an extremely experienced veteran. At 6’5” and 311 pounds, he will be the base of the Kentucky offensive line, protecting a new quarterback in 2024 after Devin Leary exhausted his eligibility.

    7) Ja’Mori Maclin, WR

    Ja’Mori Maclin links up with the Wildcats as a multi-time transfer after starting his college career in Missouri and moving to North Texas. The wide receiver now heads back to the SEC with two years of eligibility remaining.

    MORE: 2024 Kentucky Wildcats Football Roster

    With the Mean Green, Maclin led the team with 57 catches for 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2023, which would have led the Wildcats in all metrics. The explosive receiver had four games with more than 100 yards a year ago, and if that production can be replicated in Lexington, then the Wildcats offense will become must-watch TV.

    6) Brock Vandagriff, QB

    With Leary leaving for the NFL, the Wildcats have turned to former Georgia QB Brock Vandagriff out of the transfer portal. The former Bulldog was in Athens from 2021 and sat behind Stetson Bennett and Carson Beck before leaving to pursue a starting role.

    Vandagriff joins Kentucky with two years of eligibility remaining. He played in 12 games in 2023 as a reserve for Beck and completed 12 of his 21 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. The junior quarterback will now get his opportunity as a starter in the SEC, and big things are expected of the former five-star recruit.

    5) Dane Key, WR

    Dane Key returns to Kentucky after leading the team with 42 receptions, 636 receiving yards, and six receiving touchdowns in 2023. A steady producer over his first two seasons with the Wildcats, Key is primed for a jump in production in the fall.

    Born in Lexington, Key is a fan favorite. His father, Donte, played linebacker for Kentucky between 1992 and 1995. Now, NFL scouts see him as one of the top receivers in the SEC and one of the focal points of the Kentucky passing attack.

    4) Jamon Dumas-Johnson, LB

    Jamon Dumas-Johnson was a massive addition from the transfer portal and one of the most notable arrivals in Lexington in several years. The former Georgia Bulldog had 34 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and two pass breakups in nine games in Athens in 2023 and earned first-team All-American honors.

    With Trevin Wallace leaving for the NFL, Dumas-Johnson will slot straight into the weakside linebacker role and establish himself as one of the top linebackers in the nation.

    3) Barion Brown, WR

    The Wildcats’ receiver room has the potential to be exceptional in 2024, and Barion Brown is the most explosive of the group. He ran a 10.49 100-meter dash in high school as the receiver also excelled in track and field events.

    A CFN Third-Team All-American as a sophomore, Brown led the team with 43 receptions while producing 539 yards and four touchdowns receiving. The elusive receiver also had 147 rushing yards and one touchdown. Brown also exploded as a kick returner a year ago, returning 16 kicks for 576 yards and three touchdowns.

    Bigger things are expected of Brown in the fall, with an NFL career to come when his time at Kentucky ends.

    2) Maxwell Hairston, CB

    Maxwell Hairston is one of the top returning defensive backs in the nation, having dominated the SEC in his sophomore season in 2023.

    The Wildcats’ dominant corner led the conference with five interceptions, 131 interception return yards, and two pick-sixes, a performance that significantly contributed to the team’s defensive success. He also finished eighth in the SEC in passes defended and third on the team with 68 tackles.

    KEEP READING: List Of Kentucky Wildcats NFL Draft Picks

    2023 was a breakout season for Hairston, who started all 13 games after redshirting in 2022. Big things are expected of the star cornerback who will lockdown the perimeter in Lexington again.

    1) Deone Walker, DT

    Deone Walker is fresh off a breakout season in 2023, during which he led the team with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss. Voted a team captain in his second season with the program, the defensive lineman was a CFN Third Team All-American. He ranked eighth in the SEC in sacks in 2023, putting together consecutive impressive years.

    Having started 24 straight games entering 2024, Walker is one of the top defensive linemen in the nation and has showcased continual dominance. Already considered by NFL scouts to be one of the top prospects in the 2025 NFL Draft, the Detroit native can repeat his success in the fall.

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