90i #77: Patrick Nelson

He’s obviously not #77 anymore. He tore his ACL last week, so unlike Mikey Dudek or Dre Brown, he’s definitely out for the season. But a list is a list, and when I sat down to do these rankings earlier this month, Patrick Nelson was at #77.

Patrick Nelson
Safety
6′-0″, 205 lbs.
True Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Hales Franciscian High School / Chicago, Illinois

What I Know About Him:

If you don’t follow these types of things – and why would you – this recruiting class was very close on social media. Very, very close. And not just on social media – these guys seem to be genuinely close. Came to nearly every game in the fall together. Came to the spring game together. Heck, Gabe Megginson picked Illinois partly because of his friendship with Dre Brown.

After he verballed, Nelson appeared to be at the center of it all. Who was our “join the fam, bro” guy on Twitter? Pat Nelson. Who was at the center of nearly every photo of a group of recruits? Pat Nelson. Who seemed to buy in to Our State Our Team the most? Brown, Megginson, Fitzgerald, and Nelson. Which is why it sucks so hard that three of those four have torn their ACL in the past few year. Get well soon, gentlemen.

What I Expect From Him:

Nelson was near the top of the true freshmen on this list because Nelson had a chance to play as a true freshman. Not a good chance, mind you, because safety seems fairly set, but there was a chance he would pick up the playbook like Mason Monheim picked up the playbook and be ready to go game 1. Let’s say that it was a 17% chance.

That 17% is now 0% with the ACL tear. Surgery is usually a month after the injury, so let’s say August 1 for surgery, six-to-eight months rehab, maybe they let him go full speed in the spring. Most likely, he’s limited in the spring and we’ll get our first viewing of him in Rantoul in 2016.

Where would he then fit on future rosters? Well, I’d say the top three safeties this fall are Taylor Barton, Clayton Fejedelem, and Caleb Day. Fej (FEJ!) will then graduate and the top three safeties in 2016 will be TayBar, Day, and maybe Jevaris Little (or Darwyn Kelly). So maybe there’s a spot for Nelson as the 4th safety in 2016, with a chance at a starter’s spot as early as his redshirt sophomore year.

Freshman Jersey Number Day 2015 (Part II)

I’m halfway through the freshman numbers and we’ve just now reached the 30’s. If you’ve ever wanted confirmation that every player chases a low number these days, this is it. Let’s run through the rest of the freshman numbers… of which only three are higher than 55. [Read more…]

Freshman Jersey Number Day 2015 (Part I)

Freshman. Jersey. Number. Day. I mean, you wait all spring, you know? Is Gabe Megginson going to be something weak like #64 or something bold and strong like #72? (Yes, that joke was just for you, Martin.) Let’s take the next few moments and reflect on the numbers these freshmen will be wearing.  You only get FJND once per year, and I want to enjoy it. [Read more…]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Dominic Thieman

Recruit from schools that recruit. It’s #7 in the How To Find Sleeper Recruits guidebook. Many think that coaches recruit from schools like Glenville, St. Thomas Aquinas, and De La Salle because they want to get in good with the coaching staff or because the kids have been coached up. That’s part of the reason. Another reason: they’ve already done the recruiting. [Read more…]

90i #80: Jamal Milan

The 80’s are always the hardest to rank. Wait, that soulds like I’m discussing the decade. I mean the 80’s as in thr players ranked from 80 to 90 on The 90 Illini. Mostly freshmen, almost all will redshirt, what does it matter? IT MATTERS.
Jamal Milan
Defensive Tackle
6′-3″, 265 lbs.
True Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play )
Al Raby High School / Chicago, Illinois

What I Know About Him:

Milan was one of the recruits who picked Illinois on signing day. Which, might I remind you, was the craziest signing day we’ve ever had. Trenard Davis down to Pitt, Wisconsin, and Illinois? Picks Illinois. Cameron Watkins down to Vandy and Illinois? Picks Illinois. Ke’Shawn Vaughn down to West Virginia and Illinois? Picks Illinois. Jamal Milan down to Minnesota and Illinois? Picks Illinois.

Now that he’s in school (the “rumblings” during recruiting were that qualification might be an issue, but there he is on campus now, so suck on that, recruiting rumblings), it will be interesting to see how he’s groomed.  Bulk him up for nose guard?  Keep him around 270 and have him play 3-technique?  Regardless, big signing, big future.  Big kid.

What I Expect From Him:

You always want depth at defensive tackle. Remember Keith Gilmore’s “pair and a spare” approach? He basically had five starters at defensive tackle and rotated them liberally. It’s a position where you can tire quickly (it’s much easier, exhaustion-wise, for an OL to sit back and pass protect than it is for a defensive lineman to charge forward. Many high-tempo offenses are designed purely around that concept – keep the DL on the field and don’t allow subs (don’t rotate your offensive players, snap it 12 seconds later) and you won’t have to face any pass rush at all.  The defensive line will be dog tired by the sixth snap.  Like a hockey team that can’t rotate lines.

Gilmore rotated 5 guys. Greg Colby rotated four guys. We will have to see what New DL coach Mike Phair does with his rotations, but my guess is that he’ll rotate at least four DT’s. This year, that’s Bain, Chunky, Teko, and Fotu (name team, yo). In 2016, slide Tito in for Fotu (name team, yo). 2017? 2017, unless there’s Juco help, Milan is going to have to be ready to start.

So there’s your path for Jamal Milan. Likely redshirt. Then you’re going to have to sprinkle him in there as a redshirt freshman in 2016 because in 2017, he’s probably starting next to Tito Odenigbo.

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Drake Spears

That was a long 57 days. After the little burst of verbal commitments during spring ball (Kentrail Moran, Eli Peters, Amani Jones), I was hoping we’d get a big jump on the 2016 class. But then it went quiet (partly because, well, you know), and I was worried certain Illini leans were leaning elsewhere. Thankfully, Drake Spears put an end to that. [Read more…]

90i #85: Desmond Cain

Ranking (mostly) freshmen down here in the 80’s is pretty much the same thing: “he’ll redshirt, get stronger, learn the playbook…”. But it’s still important to rank these players. I spend a lot of time trying to decide if Desmond Cain should be #86 and Cameron Watkins be #85 or the other way around. The decision: Cain at 85.

Desmond Cain
Wide Receiver
5′-11″, 180 lbs.
True Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
American Heritage School/ Delray Beach, Florida

What I Know About Him:

When he verballed, he was going to be a defensive back. But then we added Cameron Watkins right before signing day, which probably allows us to try Cain at wide receiver. That’s what Bill Cubit said on Signing Day, anyway.

Of course, those Signing Day things can’t really be trusted. On Signing Day 2014 the coaching staff said that Julian Hylton would be tried at running back. Then, in the fall, he was at defensive back (tried at both corner and safety, I believe). This spring, back to running back. But maybe that was just because of numbers and he’s back to safety when Rantoul arrives. Same with LaKeith Walls. At running back. Then safety. Then back to running back. Then to linebacker (where he stuck).

So I expect we might see the same for Cain. Maybe wide receiver for a bit. Maybe over to defensive back. A little corner here, a little safety there, then maybe back to offense. In 2017 or 2018, he settles at one spot.

What I Expect From Him:

Oops. I think I covered this above. Well, let’s go into a little more detail.

The coaching staff said they’d try him at wide receiver first. So where would he fit there? With Dude K out, I think the top three receivers are clearly senior Geronimo Allison, sophomore Malik Turner, and senior Justin Hardee. But all three are outside guys, so one of Zach Grant or Dionte Taylor probably takes over Dudek’s slot slot. That’s five, we’ll probably go seven, so… maybe Marchie Murdock is the 6th guy and then it’s a battle between junior Tyrin Stone-Davis, sophomore Raphael Barr, freshman Sam Mays, and freshman Desmond Cain for that seventh spot.

So yes, with many players in front of him at the moment, I expect a redshirt for Cain (thus the #85 ranking). Redshirt him, figure out where you want to use him, start prepping him for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

90i #86: Cameron Watkins

All people over, say, 35 years old, answer this question: When I say “track star who will try to play football”, who do you think of? If you’re from the Chicago area, you probably say Willie Gault. If you’re from other parts of the country, you might say the player who I think of: Renaldo Nehemiah. Cameron Watkins is our Renaldo Nehemiah. [Read more…]

90i #87: Michael Martin

It’s not every day you see a countdown of an entire college football roster that includes TWO long snappers, right? Well, this isn’t your ordinary ninety player countdown. This is… THE NINETY ILLINI. [Read more…]

90i #88: Dre Brown

I’ve missed this feeling. Scrambling around at 11:30 pm CDT so that I can publish the next 90i post before midnight central time and maintain my “one countdown post every day from now until the season starts” declaration. I have 24 minutes left, so right to it: [Read more…]