Former NC State quarterback Devin Leary is transferring to Kentucky, giving the Wildcats another NFL Draft prospect to follow in the wake of Will Levis' departure. Leary confirmed the news of his commitment to the Wildcats to On3 on Tuesday.
247Sports has Leary ranked as one of the top overall players in the transfer portal, checking in at No. 5 overall and the top quarterback according to the transfer portal rankings. Leary picking Kentucky is a huge win for the Wildcats not only to land an instant-impact difference-maker at the quarterback position but to beat out other SEC foes for his commitment.
Leary had a tremendous 2021 season that included 35 touchdowns to just five interceptions, which saw him break Philip Rivers' single-season school record for touchdowns and become the first and only player in ACC history to have 35 or more touchdowns with five or less interceptions. That record-setting campaign resulted in Leary being named the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, and the Wolfpack started the year in the top 15 of the preseason AP Top 25 poll.
Unfortunately, Leary, who has 62 touchdown passes and 26 starts across his four seasons at NC State, suffered a season-ending injury in a win against Florida State on Oct. 8. The expectation that is that Leary will be available for the start of the 2023 season.
"He's one of the more efficient passers in the country, doesn't turn the ball over and his arm is on another level," said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. "Certainly, you hope he's heal and able to get back to the point he was at in that 2021 season at NC State where he was a Johnny Unitas finalist."
Hype building for Kentucky's offense
One reason fans were hoping to see Kentucky land a quality quarterback in the transfer portal is the news that Liam Coen could be returning as offensive coordinator. Coen was an offensive assistant under Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams for three seasons, including one year as the quarterbacks coach, before he was hired by Mark Stoops to lead the Wildcats offense in 2021. He's back in Los Angeles with McVay in 2022, where he's acknowledged the potential of a return to Lexington but insists "the biggest thing is focusing on the season." Multiple reports say Coen filling Kentucky's open position at offensive coordinator is expected, but until the end of the Rams' season there may not be any official movement.
Coen's arrival saw an immediate impact on Kentucky in terms of where it stood among its peers in the SEC, going from No. 12 in the conference in yards per play in 2020 (5.15) to No. 5 in 2021 (6.40) and from No. 11 in scoring to No. 5 with an improvement of more than 10 points per game (21.8 points per game in 2020, 32.3 points per game in 2021). The offensive improvement contributed to one of the best seasons of the Mark Stoops era as Kentucky went 10-3 and finished ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll for just the second time since 1985.
Things went so well that Coen was hired back to Los Angeles, this time with a promotion to offensive coordinator, and Kentucky saw a reversal of its offensive fortunes in 2022. The Wildcats tumbled to last place in the SEC in scoring (22.1 points per game) and No. 13 in yards per play (5.43). So when the news broke that Coen would be returning to Lexington, there was much celebration but even more anticipation for who would take over at quarterback with Will Levis off to the NFL Draft.
Leary has also been considered a potential NFL Draft pick, and started the 2022 season with a bit of a Heisman Trophy push. With a full bill of health, Leary can thrive with Coen at the helm of the offense.
Injuries have been an issue for Leary
One reason the excitement for Leary is focused around his 2021 output is that it happens to be the only full season he has played across five years of college football. Leary redshirted the 2018 season, then came off the bench to start the last five games of the season in 2019. In 2020, a COVID outbreak during preseason camp left Leary sidelined because of contact tracing, forcing him to miss the season opener. Five games into that season, he then suffered a fractured fibula that ended his campaign.
It was incredibly disappointing considering he had eight touchdowns to just two interceptions with a high pass efficiency rating, and it seemed like he had just gotten rolling after being sidelined for key portions of the preseason. That's what made 2021 so rewarding for Leary and NC State to see him not only start every game throughout the season but thrive with that opportunity. It's expected that Leary will be fully healed and ready to go for 2023, and if he can stay healthy through the season, Kentucky could see 2021-like numbers from the former Wolfpack quarterback.
Quarterback dominoes in motion
With Leary off to Kentucky, that increases the attention on where Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall will commit as both players shared some potential landing spots throughout this transfer window. With former Kent State quarterback Collin Schlee already committed to UCLA, the last remaining quarterbacks in the top 50 of the 247Sports transfer portal ranking are McCall (No. 6), former Texas quarterback Hudson Card (No. 10), former Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (No. 22), former Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong (No. 27) and former Ole Miss quarterback Luke Altmyer (No. 34). For schools like Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame and others that are looking to potentially add a top quarterback from the portal, the time is ticking to land one of the blue-chip transfers left on the board.