Second Kentucky starter with eligibility left opts out of bowl game to prep for NFL draft

A second Kentucky football player with eligibility remaining has opted out of the Wildcats’ bowl game to begin preparing for the NFL draft.

But unlike running back Ray Davis, who declared for the draft earlier this week, this move came as more of a surprise.

Defensive back Andru Phillips, who was listed as a junior on Kentucky’s roster but has already graduated, declared for the draft Thursday evening. Phillips totaled 44 tackles, one tackle for loss and four pass breakups as one of Kentucky’s starting cornerbacks this season.

“I can’t put into words how grateful I have been to play under Coach Stoops at the University of Kentucky these last four years,” Phillips, the son of former Wildcats linebacker Carlos Phillips, wrote in a note posted to his social media accounts announcing his decision. “It was a lifelong dream of mine to play here, and I’m glad I can call the city of Lexington my home.”

Defensive back Andru Phillips appeared in 37 games with 15 starts across four seasons at Kentucky.
Defensive back Andru Phillips appeared in 37 games with 15 starts across four seasons at Kentucky.

While Phillips drew criticism from fans for some high-profile mistakes in coverage, UK coach Mark Stoops did hint this move was possible Monday during his final weekly radio show of the season.

“Andru really is a guy that will have a (NFL decision),” Stoops said. “He could go to the Senior Bowl because he’s graduated. He’s technically a senior. He could come back, but he’s another one that’s had a really good year and could definitely go to the NFL. So, we’ve got to see about that as well.”

Phillips had two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Phillips started at cornerback for Kentucky in 2023, but he also played nickel back in clear passing situations. That versatility could boost his draft stock. His work at nickel back first drew praise from Kentucky coaches in the second half of the 2022 season, but he moved outside to cornerback in spring practice after the Wildcats lost both starters at that position.

“Everyone tries to put their best slot defender out there who can guard,” Phillips said of playing nickel back earlier this season. “Usually the receivers in the slot are the ones you try to get the ball to on third down, so I take it highly that they put me out there to guard their best slot receiver on third down.”

Phillips is the third Wildcat to opt out of the bowl game, following Davis and senior offensive guard Kenneth Horsey, who missed most of the season due to injury. Five UK players have already announced intentions to enter the transfer portal (safety Jalen Geiger, nose guard Jamarius Dinkins, wide receiver Dekel Crowdus, offensive lineman Grant Bingham and tight end Izayah Cummings) with more outgoing transfers likely when the portal officially opens Monday.

Those departures mean a number of younger Wildcats who did not see significant snaps during the regular season will probably need to contribute in the bowl game.

Kentucky will learn is bowl destination Sunday after the College Football Playoff committee unveils its final top 25 ranking.

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