As I hope you’ve noticed, we have a new feature around here on IlliniBoard: The Football Recruiting Headquarters, where we map out the current state of the Illinois football recruiting class for 2017. The Headquarters page is updated regularly, and you should check back often. Every now and again, though, we’ll provide you with a recruiting update in our Children of the Future posts. Why “Children of the Future,” you ask? Really?
For the inaugural Children of the Future, we’ll be taking a broad look at where Illinois stands right now in recruiting for 2017, with both an overall breakdown and a look at each position group, ranked from least to most concerning.
The Present Situation
247sports.com currently (9/5/16) has Illinois’ recruiting class ranked 12th in the Big Ten using their composite rankings, 247’s system for combining the recruiting rankings from their own site, Rivals, Scout, and ESPN.
(Click the picture for a bigger image.) Some notes from the rankings:
- Illinois’ class is strong enough in terms of average player: On a pound-for-pound basis, Illinois is blowing Minnesota, Purdue, and Indiana out of the water and is slightly eclipsing more ballyhooed classes at Rutgers and Northwestern. You probably can’t win the Big Ten with the 9th-best recruits in the conference on average, but you can start to build a competitive roster with those types of players. We are right where we should expect to be on quality of recruit this season.
- But overall numbers count for something, too: All that said, though, it’s a tougher accomplishment to carry a high average across a bigger class, which Rutgers and Northwestern (not to mention Iowa, Maryland, and many others) have done. As Illinois’ class fills, expect the average to drop, although not to the levels of the bottom three.
- Yikes, Big Ten West: Iowa has the fifth-ranked class in the Big Ten according to 247, mostly on the strength of three very highly ranked players; the rest of their class does not look too different from that of Illinois. The other six Big Ten West programs round out the bottom seven in the conference, along with Indiana. These are our primary opponents for the foreseeable future, and they are simply not getting the job done off the field.
Position by Position, Strongest to Weakest
Two of the best recruits in this class to date, Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green, are pretty much locked into the wide receiver position. Others, including Tony Adams and Kendrick Smith, could wind up there after they arrive on campus. Still, even assuming that Adams and Smith end up on defense (which is what I do assume), Illinois is in a strong position at wide receiver, especially since many viable, quality targets remain on the board. We only really need one more receiver to replace outgoing players, although I could see Illinois taking as many as five this year.
You can downgrade our strength at defensive back if Tony Adams or Kendall Smith end up at wide receiver, but three solid commits (Antwan Collier is the other) leaves Illinois in great shape heading into the regular season. The quality options remaining on the board aren’t quite as plentiful as at wide receiver, but there isn’t much work left to be done here.
Vederian Lowe and Larry Boyd show what the new staff is looking for in offensive linemen: massive, massive humans. Along with Lere Oladipo, Boyd may be the most important commit to the class to date, and Lowe is a quality player as well, notwithstanding the light offer sheet. Both figure to be guards in college, leaving Illinois looking for a future tackle or two to close out the 2017 class. Unfortunately, I don’t see a Boyd or Lowe quality recruit remaining on the board at tackle.
Most years, almost every team will take one quarterback. Illinois found their guy for 2017 early in Cameron Thomas, a kid blessed with all the physical tools but who is suffocated by a poor Marian Catholic program and who will need seasoning when he arrives on campus. The recent offer to Florida State commit James Blackman means that Illinois isn’t necessarily done looking for high school quarterbacks, which makes sense, as only Chayce Crouch and Jeff George figure to return next year. I wouldn’t write off the possibility of a JUCO or grad transfer target popping up, either, although it’s a little early to say for sure.
It’s dangerous to play this game, because there are always a temptation to say that your guys are better than everyone else thinks, but I’ll go ahead and say it: Mike Epstein is wildly underrated by the recruiting services. Interest from Michigan, West Virginia, and Louisville suggests as much, as does his impressive performances for St. Thomas Aquinas this season after injuring his knee last year. If Mike Epstein stays committed (and he’s saying all the right things, though he will take official visits elsewhere), Illinois probably needs only one more running back, although I could see them taking two others. We seem to be slow-playing several kids at this position, which suggests there’s a particular target or two in mind, but at the same time we also recently offered someone who appears to be a firm commitment elsewhere, so I’m a bit unsure of the staff’s strategy here.
Lere Oladipo was a desperately needed pickup, but there’s still work to be done at the thinnest position group headed into 2017. Defensive end Owen Carney, high school teammate of wide receiver commit Carmoni Green, is probably the most important target on the board right now at any position. Help is needed in the interior also, but the … well, let’s call it mutual decommitment of Ryan O’Malley says the staff is going to patiently choose their targets even at positions of need.
Illinois doesn’t necessarily need much here, but they don’t have much to target, either. Marc Mondesir was a satellite camp find and a useful addition, but it would be nice to get a kid with another Power 5 offer at this position. The Micah Awodiran loss hurts; there’s simply not that much left here any longer. You would think that high school linebackers would crawl over broken glass to play for Lovie Smith and Hardy Nickerson, but so far the pickings are slim.
It’s bleak, man. There are no current commits and no realistic uncommitted targets right now at tight end, and three players graduate after the season. My best guess is that we try to poach from the Best of the MAC Recruits, 2017 edition, but that’s never an ideal long-term strategy. One of our recruiting graphics guys should send Logan Christopherson a little love note every time Missouri scores fewer than 14 points.