2018 Depth Chart

Nov 26, 2017

So here we are, the morning after the season. Which is when I do the depth chart for the following year. And this will be the least-interesting future depth chart post of all time because I just need to change six players (four starters). Pretty much the entire team returns.

Last year, with 24 seniors graduating and several freshmen coming in expecting immediate minutes, this "next year!" depth chart was insanely difficult. This year I could probably do it with one arm tied behind my back. Just makes the typing a little more difficult.

First the depth chart - with starters in bold and true freshmen in italics - and then some comments.

EDIT: removed Tre Watson, who announced a transfer. Removed Gabe Megginson who announced a transfer. Added Shaedon Meadors who is transferring in from Appalachian State.

2018 Depth Chart

QB | Thomas (SO) | George Jr. (JR) | Rivers (FR)
RB | Epstein (SO) | Brown (JR) | Bonner (SO)
FB/BTE | A. Roberts (SR) | Walker (JR-walkon) | McGrew (SR)
TE | Dorsey (SO) | Crouch (SR) | Palmer (rs-SO)
Quick-T | Boyd (SO) | Trainer (SO) | Pearl (FR)
Quick-G | Palczewski (SO) | Martin (JR) | Myers (FR)
Center | Kramer (SO) | Gavin (rs-SO) | Stover (SO-walkon)
Strong-G | Allegretti (SR) | Solomon (JR) | Daniels (FR)
Strong-T | Lowe (SO) | Cerny (rs-SO) | Slaughter (FR)
WR-X | Meadors (SR transfer) | C. Green (SO) | Reams (JR)
WR-Z | Smalling (SO) | Thieman (JR) | Mays (SR)
WR-W | Dudek (SR) | Davis (JR) | Smith (SO)
WDE | Gay (SO) | Carney (SO) | Pate (rs-FR)
NT | Milan (JR) | Avery (FR) | K. Green (rs-FR)
3DT | Oliver (JR) | Jackson (JR) | Odenigbo (SR)
SDE | Roundtree (SO) | Woods (SO) | Adesanya (SR)
WLB | Hansen (rs-SO) | J. Jones (SR) | Knight (SO)
MLB | Harding (JR) | Shogbonyo (SO) | J. Marchese (JR-walkon)
SLB | Phillips (SR) | Abercrombie (SO) | J. Williams (JR)
Nickel | Watkins (JR) | James (SR) | Bobak (SO)
CB | Hobbs (SO) | E. Jones (SO) | Martin (FR)
SS | Nelson (JR) | DeGroot (SO) | Clayton Jr. (SO)
FS | B. Williams (SO) | Green (JR) | Hylton (SR)
CB | Adams (SO) | Sumpter (JR) | Walker (FR)
Kicker | McLaughin (SR) | McCourt (rs-SO) |
Punter | Hayes (SO) | Baringer (rs-FR) |
Long-snapper | Mills (SO) | Tabel (SO) |
Punt Return | Dudek (SR) | Hobbs (SO) | Davis (JR)
KO Return | Brown/Hobbs | C. Green/Davis |

Some thoughts:

+ Yes, that's only four senior starters again. Meet the new depth chart, same as the old depth chart (except dominated by "SO" and not "FR").

As I usually do, I have 12 players on both sides of the ball to account for different offensive/defensive sets. When we have a fullback, it's Austin Roberts. When it's twin tight ends, go with a receiving TE (Dorsey) and a blocking TE (Walker). On defense, we're half in the base 4-3, half in the nickel (bring in the nickel corner, send out the strongside linebacker).

But if we're just talking "base offense" and "base defense", that's four senior starters. This year: Turner and DiLauro on offense, Crawford and Dunlap on defense. Next year: Dudek and Allegretti on offense, Watson and Phillips on defense. Youngest team in the country in back to back years? It's possible.

+ Linebacker is clearly the hardest position to evaluate (and remains my biggest concern, even more than quarterback). When Jake Hansen returns from his knee injury, I think he moves back into the starting lineup with DelShawn Phillips sliding from the weakside to the strongside (as he did often this year). But it could be the opposite. And Dele Harding - who I think is the best linebacker on this roster - is hard to keep out of the starting lineup. But would the coaches sit Tre Watson (or Phillips?).

Some might see this as a good thing (too many linebackers!). I kind of see it as "when you have seven linebackers who might play, you have none". We need someone to step forward and be J Leman or Jonathan Brown STAT.

+ Yes, that's nine sophomore starters on offense. Might be eight or seven depending on what we do with wide receiver but nine sophomores - NINE TIMES.

Which begins the worry of the 2021 season (yes really). My hope is for a rebuilt program, not a rebuilt team. Something sustainable year after year. Say we keep starting these nine players and they get better in 2018 and then even better in 2019 and then really good in 2020. Does that mean we pull another 2003 or 2009 and the whole thing falls off the cliff again?

Yes, it might not get better. The offense might never improve when these players get older and this whole bullet point is silly - who worries about future success after a 2-10 season. But I'll still be making this point if we go 8-4 next year and everyone is on the "Lovie forever!" bandwagon. I want us to build something sustainable. We've seen how "build one good team" works out.

+ I feel great about that defensive line rotation. Maybe not next year (although they'll be significantly better), but in 2019 and 2020 certainly. I think a four-man DE rotation of Gay/Carney plus Roundtree/Woods can be great. There's plenty of depth at defensive tackle - Milan, Oliver, and Jackson are only juniors. I feel comfortable that it will be a strength soon. Just need to add a lot of offseason strength to these freshmen (each of the next three offseasons).

I feel similar about the secondary. Adams-Hobbs-Watkins at corner and Williams-Nelson-Green at safety. All of those players are here through the 2019 season and three of them are still here in 2020. Just need to add depth behind them at this point.

Linebacker, though - linebacker could sink the whole thing.

+ I could see Calvin Avery pushing his way into the 2018 lineup, and maybe one of the freshman quarterbacks comes in and wins the job, but I'm pretty sure our record of 87 starts by true freshmen is safe next year. Might go from 87 this year (team record was 34 starts in 1977 before this year) to... 4 next year?

+ So, the big question: does everyone coming back and getting a year older (and stronger) mean significant improvement next year? Man, I have no idea. After a season like that, with November much worse than October, it certainly doesn't feel that way. We've seen it happen before, but we've really never seen it happen with a depth chart completely dominated by sophomores.

Still, we're going from the least-experienced team in college football in 2017 to perhaps the most experienced team in college football in 2019. That has to bring significant improvement during the year in-between, right?



neale stoner on November 26 @ 10:59 AM CST

I prefer this to the despair with Lord Byron. Don’t dwell on how low we are, or how few of us there are. There are smart, experienced people working hard to fix Illinois football. The AD and Head Coach are in alignment. When was the last time we could say those things?

iluvrt on November 27 @ 12:55 PM CST

We're doomed

neale stoner on November 26 @ 10:59 AM CST

I prefer this to the despair with Lord Byron. Don’t dwell on how low we are, or how few of us there are. There are smart, experienced people working hard to fix Illinois football. The AD and Head Coach are in alignment. When was the last time we could say those things?

iluvrt on November 27 @ 12:55 PM CST

Double doomed

Jacob on November 26 @ 11:06 AM CST

Don't forget Meadors, the 5th year Wide Receiver from App St. He will be in the rotation immediately. I expect a lot of the True Freshman, in particular on offense to be much higher on the depth chart come next season and a few of the 5th year seniors to not come back.

PosterNB12 on November 26 @ 12:26 PM CST

If I had to put money on it, I think he leads the team in receiving next year. Look at his junior year stats.

Bear8287 on November 26 @ 01:43 PM CST

How sure are people that Mikey Dudek won't just graduate and move on with his life? I certainly wouldn't blame him for doing so...

thumpasaurus on November 26 @ 02:33 PM CST

I haven't heard anything to substantiate this, but I think it would be about the smartest thing he could do. If he has the potential to return to form, I'd love to see him graduate-transfer somewhere where he wouldn't be the only offensive threat and could really shine his way into the NFL.

I've kind of been assuming for most of the year that Dudek won't be playing for Illinois next year.

illiniranger on November 26 @ 06:11 PM CST

Wouldn’t shock me if any of the RS-SRs txfer. Nothing to substantiate, but Crouch seems likely - he can go down to 1-AA or maybe the MAC and play QB. Wouldn’t shock me if Watson txfered back to Florida given the large number of D1 programs in the state. Dudek, who knows. I think it’s the right move - go somewhere they will get you the ball and at least have some fun. He could crack the lineup for most P5 teams. I don’t think Allegretti would txfer, but it wouldn’t shock me.

HiggsBoson on November 27 @ 07:57 PM CST

And so it begins: Watson, Megginson, the walk-on punter... More to come, I imagine. And color me skeptical that this recruiting year will be all that.

mcarlen2 on November 26 @ 01:40 PM CST

I’m pretty sure there has been some talk of moving Green from DT to Center. Might push Kramer for some starts.

PosterNB12 on November 26 @ 02:29 PM CST

I think they are going to have to move Green. Also have Oladipo in the mix at DL. If Verdis Brown flips (unlikely imo), then it’s a no brainer. But even if he doesn’t, he has a much better chance of playing minutes the next two years at C or G.

Bear8287 on November 26 @ 01:40 PM CST

if we go 8-4 next year

Okay, here you go:

1. Kent State, Golden Flashes
2. Western Illinois, Fighting Leathernecks
3. USF, Bulls (at Soldier Field, Chicago, IL)
4. Penn State, Nittany Lions
5. at Rutgers, Scarlet Knights
6. Purdue, Boilermakers
7. at Wisconsin, Badgers
8. Maryland, Terrapins
9. Minnesota, Golden Gophers
10. at Nebraska, Cornhuskers
11. Iowa, Hawkeyes
12. at Northwestern, Wildcats

so, pick your 8 W's... (love your optimism Robert).

Every B1G team won at least 2 conference games this season except for one which didn't win any. So who does a team of sophomores gain ground on next year?

Linebacker is clearly the hardest position to evaluate (and remains my biggest concern, even more than quarterback).

I actually thought that the play at QB looked improved yesterday (and that's on a 14-31-2 performance plus a fumble that was scooped up by Northwestern and pushed into the end zone for a touchdown).

If this offense doesn't find a way to score points next season and keep the opposing team's offense off of the field, it's not really going to matter that much how good the linebackers are (especially if you want to win 8 games).

Still sticking with the program here. It's really good that the AD is backing the HC. Just seems more likely that 2019 is the first year where we might see a B1G team on the field and have a real shot at a bowl game.

iluvrt on November 27 @ 12:56 PM CST

If we get 4 wins out of that bunch, I will be happy

illiniranger on November 26 @ 01:44 PM CST

1) Phillips was great at Will, I’d stay with him

2) if our DL is good we will get serviceable LB play.

3) I share your concerns about building a team vs building a program. Today at this moment, that looks like the glide path.

1970 John on November 26 @ 01:48 PM CST

I think falling off a future cliff is not something we'll have to worry about. We'll have younger guys filling in and getting reps as part of a growing depth. If we had no one coming in over the next four years, yeah, that would be a problem. But if recruiting goes well, we'll have the strength and talent to spell our rising sophomores during the game so they're not totally gassed as we saw this year.

As Fleetwood Mac sang in Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, it'll soon be here, better than today.

PosterNB12 on November 26 @ 02:34 PM CST

What are the odds a freshman that played this year redshirts as a sophomore? I think barge gets time as a safety, and degroot could be 3rd team. Mondesir or Knight could be 4th string (we have one solid recruit coming in, and in on Coleman, a former UCLA commit). I could also see Cam Thomas behind both Taylor and Rivers.

Lou-a-villini on November 26 @ 05:57 PM CST

When Megginson signed, Robert, I think you gave him 4.5 or 5 Tom Cruises. What happened to him?

HiggsBoson on November 27 @ 08:18 PM CST

Transferring, per announcement today.

Norcal Illini on November 27 @ 11:15 PM CST

I think he meant why wasn't Megginson better. He didn't seem to live up to his reputation. The times I paid attention, it looked like he was getting beat a lot, especially when he played tackle.

steveinseattle on November 26 @ 07:57 PM CST

Coran Taylor?

Sweetchuck13 on November 27 @ 08:23 AM CST

Man that Defensive depth chart gives me some confidence. Hopefully it's not just familiarity, but reading over those starters looks like a real solid defense. I really like the LB lineup of Hansen/Watson/Phillips. Hopefully Gay/Carney at DE will gain some more strength to be more of a factor against B1G OLs, and CB need to improve some. But overall I think that's the beginnings of a legitimate B1G defense. Still lots of concerns on the offensive side though - especially QB and OL, so it could just mean losing games 24-10 instead of 38-7.

And while our true freshman starts record of 84 may be safe, I'll take the over on Robert's prediction of 4 all day. On November 27, 2016, how many freshman starts would you have predicted? Did we even know about guys like Williams or Roundtree at this point last year? Wouldn't be surprised to see at least a few FR come right in and surprise or at least push for playing time unexpectedly.

Still think a bowl is likely out of the question, but I do expect a significant step forward next year - perhaps 4-8 or 5-7 with a much more competitive team. Need to start pulling fans back in and getting them excited about the direction of the program by winning.

HiggsBoson on November 27 @ 08:22 PM CST

I suspect that more than a few on that chart will transfer. Lovie's window to recruit on his name is closing with the poor performance on the field. He won't be fired, but I suspect we'll be rebuilding again when his contract is up.

BexleyIllini on November 27 @ 09:52 AM CST

Why did we have so many injuries this year? Just bad luck, or did our undersized underclassmen just get beat up by bigger, older guys?

illlinizeeman on November 27 @ 10:06 AM CST

The OL/TEs will need to take the biggest step forward if there are to be sustained drives. The young QBs needed/will need more time as they take longer to find a receiver. There weren't any running lanes for our RBs when defenses dared us to throw.

Illiniiniowa on November 27 @ 01:02 PM CST

I don't agree with the concern about LBs. My concern right now would be OL, QB, OL, TE, OL, and oh, yeah, OL.

HiggsBoson on November 27 @ 08:26 PM CST

Other than noting transfers and recruits, it's time to pay attention to basketball rather than football.

Illinimac68 on November 28 @ 04:08 PM CST

I understand the concern about building the program rather than having one good team. I suggest we're going to need that one good team to build a program. For me, the chicken of the one good team needs to happen so we can get the egg of better recruiting. While you can hope for an "ace" recruiter, a silver tongue can only do so much when he's selling 2-10, especially in the third and fourth year.

NaperSteve on December 09 @ 12:16 PM CST

Haven't seen this elsewhere but why isn't 6th year senior injury waivers considered for football - i.e. Dudek who would seem to be a poster child for this waiver.

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