2017 Recruiting Headquarters

Introducing to you now: The IlliniBoard 2017 football recruiting headquarters! Consider this your resource for keeping track of who is committed to Illinois, who is out of the picture, and who might be worth watching going forward. This board will be updated regularly as things develop (and placed as a permanent link in the sidebar), so check back often.
A few notes before starting:

Click the position group link you’d like to see, or scroll down for every position group:

Quarterbacks; Wide Receivers; Running Backs; Tight Ends; Offensive Line; Defensive Line; Linebackers; Defensive Backs; Specialists

Quarterbacks

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 2 Need: 2-3
2017 Outlook: Things are leaner than optimal at quarterback with the transfers of Eli Peters and Jimmy Fitzgerald. Wes Lunt moves on after 2016, leaving a battle for starter between the two remaining scholarship quarterbacks, Chayce Crouch and Jeff George, Jr. Only in rare circumstances will a program not bring in one quarterback for each class, and Illinois’ need for a quarterback is greater than usual, so at least one commit was always a given.
Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Cameron Thomas IL 3* (.8356) LLUOI Accepted offer from Illinois early in the recruiting process. No other offers for Thomas, but he had rumored interest from Minnesota and Iowa among others before committing to Illinois. Fast and strong-armed, but his high school stats and record are absolutely dreadful. (In fairness, his team is dreadful as well.) Unquestionably a project.
Dwayne Lawson KS (CC) 3* (.8496) LLUOI Somewhat out-of-nowhere JUCO commitment was a highly touted recruit out of high school but washed out of Virginia Tech after on-field and (relatively minor) off-field issues. I think fans need to start thinking less “probably 2017 starter” than “potential lottery ticket,” but signing a JUCO made all the sense in the world given the thin QB roster and Chayce Crouch’s injury, and Lawson was a better option than most.
Jeremiah Briscoe TX (grad) n/a No A fifth-year grad transfer at quarterback isn’t out of the question. Briscoe, the former UAB player now at Sam Houston State, has ties to Garrick McGee and has performed admirably at the FCS level. Sam Houston State’s head coach is now the OC at Ole Miss, which doesn’t particularly need a veteran QB. Something to watch, but not something I expect.
Griffin Alstott FL 3* (.8176) No(?) Purdue commit (and son of Mike Alstott, duh) visited Illinois on 1/21/17, but it’s unclear how he fits into their plans or whether he even has an offer.
Reyondous Estes IL 3* (.8025) Yes East St. Louis prospect flipped from WMU (Fleck) to Mizzou (not Fleck) to Minnesota (Fleck again). I’m not heartbroken about it.
Alin Edouard KS (CC) n/a No Not getting an offer.
James Blackman FL 3* (.8554) Yes Florida State commit was offered by Illinois in late August. Not happening.
Tate Martell NV 4* (.9712) Yes Ohio State commit. Has an Illinois offer but no chance he takes it, even if he were to go elsewhere (Martell has already decommitted from Washington and Texas A&M).
Brandon George OK 3* (.8221) No Some interest from Illinois early, but unlikely to be pursued after Cameron Thomas commitment. Wake Forest only P5 offer.
Current Status: After Cameron Thomas committed, it seemed that quarterback recruiting might be just about finished for 2017, but the transfers of Eli Peters and Jimmy Fitzgerald left the position perilously thin going into next season. The signing of Lawson doesn’t necessarily mean that things are finished, either, but the depth chart is less scarcely populated than a few months ago. (Back to top)

Wide Receivers

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 6 Need: 3-5
2017 Outlook: Illinois loses Dionte Taylor, Justin Hardee, and Zach Grant to graduation but has a reasonably solid group coming back, featuring Malik Turner and (one hopes) a healthy Mike Dudek. Complicating matters is that the previous coaching staff placed a greater emphasis on height compared to the current regime, which seems focused on speed. To help hasten the transition, Garrick McGee and company may want more incoming than outgoing bodies this year.

A note about wide receivers: Many high school wide receivers, especially at non-football factory schools, play both offense and defense (think Terry Hawthorne). It’s sometimes a guessing game whether those recruits will end up at wide receiver or defensive back; sometimes the coaches themselves don’t know until they arrive on campus (or even after a year or two). I’ve included recruits in the section where I believe they seem to fit best, but mistakes will be made.

Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Ricky Smalling IL 3* (.8868) LLUOI The first major recruiting win of the Lovie regime and a legitimate top-10 prospect in the state of Illinois, regardless of where he ends up ranked by the recruiting services. Illinois beat out Wisconsin, Minnesota, and several others for Smalling’s commitment.
Carmoni Green FL 3* (.8680) LLUOI It’s now official: The Illini have held off a late charge from North Carolina for the Miami-area wide receiver’s signature. Green is an early-enrollee and will provide some much-needed depth to the wide receiver corps over the spring (and beyond).
Reggie Roberson TX 3* (.8525) Yes Once felt like only a matter of time for the Texas wide receiver, who has said (and tweeted) all the right things since decommitting from Kansas this fall. But Roberson has been making the grand tour during this final period, visiting Washington State, Utah, West Virginia, three programs coming off successful seasons. I’m not nearly as confident as I once was, but he still feels like an Illinois lean. Will decide 6:00 p.m. CST on 1/30/17.
Jeff Thomas IL 4* (.9737) Yes East St. Louis mega-prospect once left Illinois out of his top six, then announced a top three that included no one but Illinois, and now seems to have excluded Illinois entirely. Oh well.
Jalin Tolbert IL n/a No Teammate of 2018 top-300 recruit Micah Jones at one time figured to be a possible offer, but no longer.
Jaylond Adams AL 3* (.8422) Yes? Tailback from Garrick McGee’s recruiting hotbed in Alabama and less highly recruited than prep accolades would suggest. Illinois do not seem to be in pursuit any longer.
DJ Edwards FL 3* (.8453) Yes Florida recruit visited Champaign for the Western Michigan game (womp womp), and not much was heard from him thereafter as far as Illinois was concerned. The silence was probably mutual; Illinois seemed to have more interest in others. Committed to Purdue.
Leroy Henley Jr. FL 3* (.8641) Yes Announced a top three of West Virginia, Illinois, and UCF once upon a time; committed to East Carolina. I don’t think there was ever anything there.
Cartrell Thomas TX 3* (.8466) Yes Became an Illinois target following the Dallas-area satellite camp. Committed to Boise State in November.
Isaiah Robertson IL 4* (.8998) Yes Listed as a safety by 247 but was likely recruited by Illinois as a WR. Committed to Notre Dame the night before the Illinois spring game.
Sharod Johnson FL 3* (.8083) Yes Syracuse commit is nevertheless taking official visits to Illinois and others. Feels like a back-up target.
Trestan Ebner TX 3* (.8735) Yes Committed to SMU but decommitted when his recruitment blew up, as is wont to happen. Now committed to Iron Skillet rival TCU. Even if he were to end up someplace else, it won’t be Illinois.
Will Ulmer IA (CC) n/a Yes JUCO had Illinois and Louisville offers but commitment to UAB suggests the Power 5 schools cooled for whatever reason. May get snapped up by Mizzou.
Current Status: Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green are a solid one-two punch. With those two commitments, wide receiver is easily the most settled position in the 2017 recruiting class for Illinois, and that’s before taking into account that Kendall Smith or Tony Adams could end up at receiver as well. Space is filling up quickly, although I think that at least one more wide receiver recruit is likely, and the staff would surely find room for Jeff Thomas regardless of however many receivers have already committed. Roberson is now vital, one of the most important targets left on the board. (Back to top)

Running Backs

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 7 Need: 2-3
2017 Outlook: No one runs out of eligibility, which is good, but this is a perilously thin group in 2016 and figures to be in 2017 without reinforcements. Ke’Shawn Vaughn returns for his junior year, Reggie Corbin returns as a redshirt sophomore, and Dre Brown (hopefully) returns from injury. Incoming freshman Tre Nation provides a different — read, bigger — look out of the backfield. Kendrick Foster has a fifth year of eligibility remaining but he will probably need to show something this season to be asked to return for that final season and is the presumptive starter headed into spring camp (my, how things change). Austin Roberts, converted linebacker, figures to get some snaps at the position that Northwestern refers to, ridiculously, as a “superback.” Nate Echard joins him, likely as the starter at that hybrid fullback/tight end position.
Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Mike Epstein FL 3* (.8295) LLUOI Most recent Illinois commit from South Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Epstein missed his junior season with a torn ACL but still managed to draw interest from Michigan, West Virginia, and others after committing to Illinois. I wouldn’t bet my life savings on Epstein remaining committed to Illinois, but he seems fairly solid despite (because of?) the coaching change. Diverse Power 5 interest and impressive senior year performances suggests Epstein is badly underrated by the recruiting services.
Ra’Von Bonner OH 3* (.8254) LLUOI Second running back commitment of the 2017 class and first commitment for Lovie Smith out of Ohio, a traditional hotspot for Illinois but perhaps de-emphasized under the new regime. Bonner was no doubt a backup option at running back, but an impressive senior year statistically made the decision easier for Illinois.
Kywan Smith FL n/a Yes Lesser-heralded teammate of WR Carmoni Green and DE Owen Carney. Smith’s only offer at this point is Illinois, and that offer may have a string or two attached. Haven’t heard much about Smith since the summer. This seems off.
Calvin Tyler Jr. TX 3* (.8469) Yes Visited Champaign prior to the July cookout and received an offer shortly thereafter. Holds a Cal offer, along with offers from various and sundry mid-majors. Cal and perhaps Louisiana Tech figure to be the main competition. Said he would decide on 8/26 then decided against it. Things went silent after, and now he has committed to Oregon State.
Sheldon Evans GA 3* (.8395) Yes Offered by Illinois in May, heard nothing since. Just a name.
Malik Davis FL 3* (.8166) Yes Davis named a top seven in July that included Illinois, but Illinois never really seemed in it. Florida lost a running back recruit, offered Davis (or made the offer commitable), and Davis grabbed the opportunity.
Michael Warren II OH 3* (.8715) Yes Decommitted from Kentucky in May. Named a top six of Iowa State, Rutgers, Louisville, Toledo, Kentucky, and Boston College in July, but noted — as kids do these days — that his recruitment was still open. Illinois offered in August and, kind of, made Warren’s top four, along with Iowa State, Kentucky, and Toledo (so much for that top six list). I speculated that Illinois might have waited too long to get involved, and that likely proved correct with Warren’s commitment to hometown Toledo.
Chase Hayden TN 3* (.8904) Yes Once upon a time there was a reasonable thought that Illinois could land Hayden because Lovie coached at Tennessee at the same time Hayden’s father played there. But Illinois never picked up much traction in the race and Hayden has committed to Arkansas. That commitment looks a touch shaky at the moment, but Illinois is unlikely to benefit.
Maleek Williams FL 3* (.8459) Yes Infamously named Illinois his leader, then traveled to Arkansas five nanoseconds later and committed. The coaches haven’t quit on this one but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.
Tayon Fleet-Davis MD 3* (.8537) Yes Illinois offered but Fleet-Davis committed to Maryland shortly thereafter. Nothing doing.
Ivory Kelly-Martin IL 3* (.8478) Yes Maybe the only Big Ten caliber running back recruit in Illinois this year, Kelly-Martin committed to Iowa a few weeks after Lovie was hired. Annoying but one of many recruits where the timing was against us.
Jordon Curtis OK 3* (.8416) Yes “Athlete” recruit in prime Garrick McGee recruiting territory but — shock! — he committed to Arkansas.
Weston Bridges OH 3* (.8528) Yes April Michigan State commit received an August offer from Illinois. Feels like a heat check, and maybe a sign of just a little bit of desperation as other running back targets leave the board.
Current Status: This is a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full situation. Everyone returns next season, including Dre Brown, who likely won’t see the field in 2016. Assuming Epstein sticks — and the repaired knee doesn’t give him too much bother (it didn’t seem to be an issue this year) — Illinois is getting close to set at running back with two commitments. It’s not impossible that they would take a third, but the biggest needs now lie elsewhere. (Back to top)

Tight Ends

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 3 Need: 2-3
2017 Outlook: JUCOs Ainslie Johnson and Andrew Davis graduate along with non-JUCO Tyler White, more-or-less obliterating the 2016 three-deep. Fortunately, what remains is very young, making tight end slightly less of a priority than “lose top three on depth chart to graduation” might suggest. Caleb Reams, Andrew Trainer, and Griffin Palmer remain in 2017 and, assuming no transfers, will each be here a few years past that. Incoming freshman and top Bill Cubit recruit Zarrian Holcombe has been moved to wide receiver by the new coaching staff but might still end up at tight end as he bulks up. Fullbacks Austin Roberts and Nate Echard provide some flexibility at the blocking tight end position as well. Bodies are needed, but given how young the returning group will be next year, don’t be surprised to see the staff go JUCO should power 5-level targets appear.
Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Louis Dorsey FL 3* (.8222) LLUOI Ignore the Florida State and other top-end offers, which came about after Dorsey’s sophomore year and are no longer valid. No matter: Dorsey is an intriguing prospect at tight end, possession the athleticism to be a D-1 basketball prospect with the football ability to earn looks from Indiana, Baylor, UCF, and others at tight end. Dorsey will need weight, and in a perfect world, 2017 would be spent redshirting, although the depth chart may not give Illinois that option.
Jacob Paulson KY 3* (.8471) Yes Committed to Minnesota.
Daniel Callendar AZ n/a Yes(?) Committed to South Dakota State, which probably tells you how commitable the offer was come January.
Salvatore Cannella AZ (CC) n/a No Arizona JUCO originally from Illinois signed with Auburn.
Reese Leitao OK 3* (.8503) Yes Son of Dave Leitao, the once and future DePaul basketball coach. Major Illinois target, but Leitao never seemed to reciprocate that interest. Committed to Nebraska in August.
Logan Christopherson IL 3* (.8538) Yes Battle between Mizzou and Illinois for a suburban Chicago kid went the way of our provel-eating brethren. Kind of a stinky recruiting loss, to be honest; Lamont should be more or less off limits to Mizzou. Personally, I’d spend every day from now until February probing just how solid this commitment is.
Jake Marwede IL 3* (.8768) Yes One of a handful of Illinois kids who committed elsewhere shortly after the Lovie hire, leaving not much the staff could do. The Duke commit suggests that his desires are … unconventional. Attends my sister’s high school.
Josh Falo CA 4* (.9339) Yes Offered by Illinois a few months back but, man, that ain’t happening. Offers from everyone.
Cole Kmet IL 4* (.9528) Yes How weird is it that three of the top fifteen or so 2017 Illinois recruits are tight ends? Committed to Notre Dame forever ago.
Current Status: The board is dire right now. Your guess is as good as mine which direction we go. Bad year to miss on a surplus of tight end talent instate, but the timing was against us with the March hire. (Back to top)

Offensive Line

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 12 Need: 3-6
2017 Outlook: Three players, including two starters, graduate from a group with lots of bodies and a few reasons for optimism going forward. Christian DiLauro returns for his 5th year and anchors one of the tackle positions, while Adam Solomon figures to take over the other tackle spot as a redshirt sophomore. In a perfect world, Gabe Megginson destroys worlds at one of the guard positions for four years starting in 2016, with Nick Allegretti joining him for three of those years. Center is a bigger question; Allegretti might slide over (making room at guard for JUCO Zach Heath, perhaps), or one of the redshirt freshmen may be ready to take over, or maybe something else entirely. A handful of others continue to progress through the strength program; the number of commits taken this year will say a lot about what the coaching staff thinks of that group.
Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Vederian Lowe IL 3* (.8362) LLUOI Big — 6’4″, 325 pounds or so big — offensive line recruit out of the Rockford area. Interesting combination of size and quickness, although technique needs plenty of refinement. Beyond strange that no one else, not even MAC schools, has offered, suggesting possible transcript concerns (note: that is complete speculation). Best case scenario: Lowe is admitted, gets 2 years to focus on technique and grades, and anchors a guard or tackle position starting in 2019.
Larry Boyd MO 3* (.8721) LLUOI Was long presumed a Mizzou lean, and then we went in and drank their milkshake. A nice one-two punch with Boyd’s commitment coming one day after Tony Adams spurned Missouri for Illinois. A desperately needed get.
Howard Watkins OH 3* (.8395) LLUOI Listed as a defensive tackle on some sites but I consensus belief seems to be he ends up on offense. The decision to postpone his announcement, originally scheduled for October 29, seemed to spell bad news for Illinois, but Watkins took at least one more trip back to Champaign during the season. The Louisville offer might be past its expiration date but this is a solid pick-up. More likely tackle than Boyd or Lowe.
Alex Palczewski IL 3* (.8333) LLUOI In-state offensive tackle missed his junior year with a neck injury, then spent his senior season absolutely destroying fools (if his tape is anything to go by). Palczewski earned a number of offers in short succession, including Syracuse and Vanderbilt, but the big man decided to stay home. Attaboy.
Joshua Fedd-Jackson NJ 3* (.8429) Yes Committed to North Carolina State.
Preston Mixon AL n/a Yes Committed to FAU.
Kenneth Pleasant TX 3* (.8321) Yes Offered by the previous staff, but level of interest by the new regime is unclear. Pleasant has a handful of Power 5 offers but has been quiet about his recruitment.
Zenden Dellinger IN 3* (.8388) Yes Indiana offensive lineman visited Illinois, but I was long skeptical of the amount of interest the coaching staff had in Dellinger. In any event, he committed to Cincinatti.
Marquis Hayes MO 3* (.8886) Yes Recruitment blew up past the Illinois level; committed to Oklahoma.
Bryce Bailey IN 3* (.8462) Yes Attended an Illinois camp and seemed to be a favorable target but committed to Vanderbilt in June. I code all commits to other schools in red but let’s see what happens if Vandy struggles this year, which is not completely beyond the realm of possibility. An annoying loss.
Matt Sichterman OH 3* (.8760) Yes Attended the Illinois junior day that took place almost immediately after Lovie was hired, but committed to Nebraska a few weeks later.
Jean Marcellus FL 3* (.8534) Yes Offered by Illinois in June; committed to USF in July.
Isaac Hawn IL 3* (.8429) Yes(?) The previous coaching staff offered in January but the current leadership didn’t seem to show much inclination. As a general rule, recruits actively chased by Big Ten teams don’t commit to Northern Illinois.
Kevin Jarvis IL 4* (.9005) Yes Stage 2 of the Lovification Program needs to be getting Michigan State out of Chicago. We’ll always be stuck with Notre Dame, especially in the Catholic League, and national recruits will always be a struggle to get out of the Windy City. But the Spartan Menace must be eradicated.
Dalton Wagner IL 3* (.8639) Yes Anywhere But Illinois type who went Anywhere But Illinois — in this case, Arkansas.
Caleb Jones IN 3* (.8422) Yes LARGE project was always an Indiana lean and committed to the Hoosiers in August.
Current Status: Lowe, Boyd, Watkins, and Palczewski is job well done. We’re through here. (Back to top)

Defensive Line

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 7 Need: 4-6
2017 Outlook: Yikes. Carroll Phillips, Chunky Clements, Rob Bain, Dawuane Smoot, and grad transfer Gimel President all depart, leaving a unit short on bodies and even shorter on experience. Tito Odenigbo and Jamal Milan figure to step into the tackle positions, but the end positions are up for grabs. Henry McGrew probably has the inside track for one of those spots. The other is anyone’s guess – perhaps redshirt sophomore Sean Adesanya.

As of right now, there isn’t even a two-deep of scholarship players. Help is needed badly. It would not be shocking to see some bodies move from offensive to defensive line, but that’s not usually a great solution. Defensive end is easily the biggest need in this class because there are only three scholarship defensive ends on the entire roster in 2017.

Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Olalere Oladipo IL 3* (.8512) LLUOI As I wrote before the commitment, “simply put, the most important recruit left on the board for Illinois right now.” Oladipo is an in-state recruit with impressive offers (Penn State, Michigan State, among others) at a position of desperate need. Lovie & Co. had to land Oladipo, and they did. Awodiran miss aside, the staff is doing quite well in closing out major targets (Adams, Boyd, Green) now that their feet are underneath them.
Kendrick Green IL 3* (.8718) LLUOI A recruitment that was at first bungled and then salvaged, a testament both to Lovie’s early growing pains and perhaps over-optimism on the recruiting trail as well as his ability to connect with kids when he gets them one on one. The latter part of that is the story here going forward. Snatching Green from Iowa after offering late and going 3-9 is no small accomplishment; I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the more impressive recruiting jobs by an Illinois head coach in recent memory.
Owen Carney FL 3* (.8696) LLUOI The most important recruit on the board post-Oladipo commitment due to (1) his ability, (2) the state of Illinois’ depth chart at defensive end, and (3) his declared intention to enroll early and thereby improve his chances of contributing early. It took a little bit of luck to get here — Carney was probably Florida State’s if they wanted him bad enough — but finishing the job on Carney was a well-deserved Christmas present for a coaching staff who worked hard for someone who figures to be an integral part of the Illinois defense starting as soon as 2017.
Bobby Roundtree FL 3* (.8247) Yes Landing Jeff Thomas would be a major statement of intent, but Roundtree may now be the most important recruit left on the board now that Oladipo and Carney are in the fold; the defensive end situation remains dire, and non-project recruits are a necessity for as soon as next season. Roundtree seems to be an Indiana lean — he’s been their main priority since Oladipo committed to Illinois — but I’m not writing this off yet.
Zion DeBose NC 3* (.8496) Yes North Carolina defensive end announced three final official visits to Illinois, Pitt, and Virginia Tech, in that order. Tough competition, and the first visit is not the best spot to be in, but a good target to get on campus. Will be deciding post-signing day, which is ballsy for a mid-level three star.
Jalen Harris AZ 3* (.8696) Yes Feels a little hard to believe that Illinois has much of a chance with the Arizona legacy commit, but he will be viting in January, so there’s at least some interest on his end.
Boe Tufele CA n/a Yes Southern California defensive tackle prospect boasts an Illinois offer and not much else. Maybe a back-up option, maybe.
Deon Pate FL 3* (.8366) Yes Pate is coded red because he’s currently committed to Appalachian State, but he’s visiting Illinois on 1/27 and feels like he could very well be a flip.
Jamal Woods AL 2* (.7924) Yes Memphis commit is in a similar position to Pate and will be visiting on 1/27.
John Mitchell IL n/a Yes(?) Crete-Monee defensive tackle had an offer from the old staff but hasn’t been as much of a priority for the current one. Mitchell also had Syracuse and MAC offers, but he’s junior college bound.
Caylon May IL n/a Yes(?) Similar boat as John Mitchell for the Rich Central defensive tackle — an offer from the old staff, but maybe not quite as much interest from the new staff. May had no other Power 5 offers and committed to Bowling Green.
Terez LaGrone IL 3* (.8281) No Worth mentioning because he’s an East St. Louis player whose recruiting profiles include an Illinois offer, but that offer is probably no longer valid.
Christian Smith AL 2* (.7732) Yes(?) Alabama recruit with an underwhelming offer list earned an offer from Illinois in May. Not clear how committable that is (answer: probably not very).
Joshua Maize IL 3* (.8362) No Deerfield defensive end named a top six of Indiana, UConn, and MAC schools but hung a big “Recruit me Illinois!” sign below the announcement. That offer never came, and now he’s committed to Miami (Ohio).
Enoch Smith Jr. KS (JUCO) n/a No Transfer from Michigan State will be going to Oklahoma State. Meh.
Juan Harris WI 3* (.8486) Yes Committed* to Indiana.
Nelson Mbanasor TX 3* (.8413) Yes Committed to Oklahoma State, visited Illinois, committed to Texas Tech. We hardly knew ye.
Odua Isibor AZ 3* (.8656) Yes Illinois offered in September and Phair probably visited at some point, but there seems to be nothing there.
Isaiah Buggs MS (CC) 4* (.9289) Yes JUCO defensive end with offers from everywhere announced an offer from Illinois in August. It’s fun to dream, but I had this one pegged as red from the beginning, and the top four released from Buggs excluded Illinois.
Ryan O’Malley IL 3* (.8388) No Former Illinois commit was asked to look elsewhere by the new coaching staff. Committed to Army.
George Ellis III FL 3* (.8221) Yes Offered by the old staff but no longer seems to be a priority or even a target.
Brendan Bordner OH 3* (.8429) Yes Listed a top four that excluded Illinois. Committed to Rutgers.
Current Status: I’ll try not to mince words: Oladipo and Carney were essential pieces to a successful 2017 recruiting class, and the coaching staff finished the job on both. Kendrick Green is the eye-opener though; ranked as a four-star by one service, the Peoria native is the type of kid who needs to be kept away from rival programs for Illinois to be rebuilt. More help is needed at defensive end, and attention now turns to Bobby Roundtree. Three defensive ends is the bare minimum needed this offseason, and four would make me feel a lot more comfortable. (Back to top)

Linebackers

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 7 Need: 2-4
2017 Outlook: We hardly knew ye, Hardy Nickerson, Jr. Ditto, in a way, Mike Svetina, who was around for five years but has had trouble finding the field after being dogged by injury. Everyone else from the group returns, including Tre Watson, Julian Jones, Justice Williams, and James Crawford. Depth is not great, although the situation here is much better than that on the defensive line, and the staff quite frankly doesn’t seem all that concerned.
Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Marc Mondesir IL 3* (.8199) LLUOI Classic satellite camp sleeper; wasn’t on any team’s radar until the Gately Stadium camp in May, then gained four FBS offers in the span of about a week. Illinois identified and closed the deal early. Robert isn’t crazy about Mondesir’s film; Steve sees a kid with outline linebacker measurables who can be taught the finer things about the position. We’ll see who is right in 2020 or so.
Delshawn Phillips KS (CC) 3* (.8737) LLUOI Illinois pried away the well-touted JUCO linebacker from Arizona at the last moment, and boy is it nice to finally win one of those. Likely to start on day one; the one question is where, exactly. Will enroll in January.
Olakunle Fatukasi NY 3* (.8462) Yes Rutgers commit was offered just prior to the Rutgers game, which, hey, we won that one! No idea of Fatukasi’s interest level in Illinois, but lord knows we need the help at linebacker.
Diego Fagot FL 3* (.8527) Yes Committed to Navy after no-showing a scheduled official visit for the North Carolina game.
DeCalon Brooks FL 3* (.8355) Yes Son of Derrick Brooks. Was always going to be a longshot if Florida State got serious about their offer. They did, and Brooks committed. So it goes sometimes.
Devodrick Johnson TX 4* (.8938) Yes Former A&M commit became current A&M commit.
Micah Awodiran IL 3* (.8455) Yes I’ve wasted all my tears
Wasted all those years
And nothing had the chance to be good
Nothing ever could, yeah
Shanon Reid FL 3* (.8576) Yes Feels like mostly unrequited interest from Illinois here.
Kenneth Murray TX 3* (.8549) Yes Said at one point that Illinois would make his top five, then later tweeted a top six list that excluded Illinois. Oklahoma commit now.
Current Status: There aren’t all that many spots open at linebacker; Mondesir and Phillips likely finishes this position out. (Back to top)

Defensive Backs

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 12 Need: 3-5
2017 Outlook: Lots of numbers, not so much proven quality. Jaylen Dunlap returns; Cameron Watkins seems to have a leg up on the battle for the other outside cornerback position; and Chris James is favorite for nickelback, Savin’ Me from having to find another option there. Safety is more up in the air, the youth movement started early there in 2016 and figures to continue.
Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Kendall Smith IL 3* (.8443) LLUOI One of the first two kids to (simultaneously) commit to Lovie, along with Ricky Smalling. Smith is not at all a bad pickup in his own right; could end up on either side of the ball but I suspect Smith is placed in the defensive backfield, probably at safety.
Tony Adams MO 3* (.8422) LLUOI Satellite camp discovery; was offered by Illinois and Missouri within a few days of one another, setting up a border battle for a kid who lives in IL but attends school in St. Louis. I think he’s more naturally a WR but the staff seems set at trying him at cornerback, and I’ll defer to them. A quality, head-to-head recruiting win over Mizzou. Unfortunately, tore his ACL in Septmber and finished his high school career on a sour note, but should be ready in time for fall camp in 2017.
Nate Hobbs KY 2* (.7681) LLUOI The former Western Kentucky commit switched his allegiance after Jeff Brohm’s departure to Purdue. Brohm has pilfered several recruits from WKU, and his decision not to re-offer Hobbs is a signal to temper expectations. (So, too, is the modest recruiting profile.) Hobbs has tools, though, and players like him are now needed given the somewhat dire state of the defensive back recruiting board. Even if he doesn’t see the playing field on defense immediately, Hobbs could contribute on special teams early.
James Knight IL 3* (.7982) LLUOI East St. Louis product chose Illinois over Western Michigan. Speed is a concern, as is size, two traits obviously important for D-1 football. What Knight does possess is a nose for the football, however, which may serve him well very early on special teams. We’ll see if Knight grows into a starting defensive back spot (figuratively, that is).
Bennett Williams CA n/a Yes California native has a few mid-major offers, is visiting 1/27, and, frankly, feels a little inevitable.
Juawan Treadwell IL 2* (.7913) Yes Yes, Laquon Treadwell’s brother. The staff once went after Treadwell pretty hard but he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. I’ll leave this yellow for whatever reason but it should probably be red.
Zyon Gilbert AL n/a Yes Not much happening here.
Trajon Cotton CA 3* (.8574) Yes Unlikely.
Mykelti Williams IA (CC) n/a No Notre Dame commit transferred from the Domers after sitting out a redshirt season; he’ll have three years of D1 eligibility remaining. Was just an idea I had. Nothing came of it.
Zamari Maxwell FL 3* (.8453) Yes Florida defensive back once appeared slated for Iowa but Maxwell announced a top four of UCF, Iowa State, Kentucky, and Illinois in December and stated that Iowa was no longer involved. No visit probably means no chance, either due to lack of interest from him or from us.
Josh Newman TX n/a Yes Texas satellite camp attendee. Only offer is Illinois. Seems to be not happening.
Quran Hafiz FL 3* (.8481) Yes Defensive back committed to Iowa State, then decommitted when he realized he had committed to Iowa State. Hafiz committed to Indiana after interest from other schools cooled, but it’s not clear that he has a commitable offer there any longer.
Antwan Collier FL 3* (.8366) Yes Lovie’s first decommitment never visited Champaign, it wasn’t exactly a shock. Still annoying to see him decamp for UCF, a 6-6 Power 5 program.
Russ Yeast IN 3* (.8782) Yes Illinois made the top six for Yeast, but this was always going to be a struggle. Silver lining: he’s going to Louisville, not Iowa.
Faion Hicks FL 3* (.8226) Yes Illinois had gotten an out-of-nowhere crystal ball pick for Hicks not long after the Antwan Collier commitment, but the wind looked to be blowing elsewhere for quite a while. Committed to Wisconsin on 10/15.
Lyndarious Strange FL 3* (.8388) Yes He of the 12:01 am Skype from Lovie after the initial dead period following Smith’s hire ended. Committed to Louisville. A bad loss considering the priority that seems to have been placed on him from the beginning of the Lovie tenure.
Kamren Curl OK 3* (.8559) Yes From Muskogee, Oklahoma, U.S.A. Named Illinois in a top five list, then committed to Texas Tech very shortly thereafter. Football’s still the roughest game on campus.
Kaheem Roach FL 3* (.8180) Yes Committed to Louisville. Supplanting Louisville, Nebraska, et al. for the B-list South Florida recruits will be a priority for Lovie and his staff going forward.
Rhedi Short CA 3* (.8490) Yes Arizona commit, but Illinois has seemingly kept working on him. We’ll see.
Kobe Boyce TX 3* (.8585) Yes Committed to Texas. May flip somewhere before signing day, but it won’t be to Illinois.
Noah Daniels TX 3* (.8247) Yes First Baylor commit after the Art Briles firing chose the embattled school over Illinois, so we have that going for us.
Current Status: Smith and Adams was an OK start, but Smith is not a natural defensive back and Adams is coming off a knee injury. Players like Hobbs, a two-star poached from Western Kentucky, figure to round out the group. More help is needed. I’ve said 3-5 defensive backs can be expected for the 2017 class but between defensive backs, wide receivers, and to a lesser extent running backs, I could see the staff taking a slew of fast kids and letting God and Lovie sort out where they all end up on the field. (Back to top)

Specialists

2017 Scholarships Occupied: 1 Need: 0-1
2017 Outlook: Lots of turnover as punter Ryan Frain and long snapper Michael Martin graduate. Kicker James McCourt among the returning group has a scholarship, but you have to figure that Chase McLaughlin will earn one as well if he holds down the starting position from this year into next. I’m not going to pretend to know whether Sean Mills is ready to take over the longsnapping position next year, but walkon tight end Bobby Walker can do the job as well.

It’s possible that we take someone at any of those three positions, but it’s just as likely we roll with what we have or farm for preferred walkons. Specialist recruiting is weird; when’s the last time Nick Saban had a decent kicker?

Name State 247 Offer? Notes
Tucker Day (P) TN 2* (.7707) Yes Committed to Mississippi State.
Current Status: All quiet on the specialist front. There usually aren’t protracted battles for kickers or punters, since only a few dozen (at most) are offered scholarships by FBS schools in any given year. Only one specialist is listed by 247 as having any interest from Illinois, and that interest did not involve a scholarship offer. Chances are that if we are interested in a specialist, fans won’t know about it until he commits. Punter would the most likely spot to nab someone. (Back to top)