Looks Like University Of Illinois - Luke Ford
I think I'm all caught up now. It seems silly to be writing this one more than two weeks after Ford announced his transfer, but that's how it works around here. When I have time to sit down and write, I do, and sometimes that means I don't catch up on posts I "owe" until weeks later. Remember the football Signing Day Breakdown in April last year? That was fun.
For Luke Ford.. this is a strange one to write. On one hand, we landed a transfer who was ranked 51st in the 2018 recruiting class. The last time we brought in top-100 players for football was 2009 (Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green), and here we are with this class that has Marquez Beason and Isaiah Williams and then we add Luke Ford to the mix. It's rather insane.
On the other hand, I'm an Illinois fan, and every Illinois tight end has been underutilized since Ron Turner was here, and so I find it difficult to get over-the-top excited about a tight end. I got excited about Jon Davis and then we used him about 1/4th as much as we should have. Matt LaCosse had 24 receptions for the Denver Broncos this year - he had 38 receptions total in four years at Illinois. 2014 Camp Rantoul, here are all these NFL scouts gathered around the tight end workouts to get a look at LaCosse... and we barely used him.
Catches by tight ends in Rod Smith's offense this past season? 11. Nine catches by Daniel Barker and two from Austin Roberts. It's been an invisible position in Champaign for nearly 20 years. Iowa? Iowa bases their offense around tight ends. They might have two tight ends drafted in the first round of the NFL draft in a few months. Illinois? We just never use the tight ends.
I don't know what to do with that. You could say "well, Illinois just never had talented tight ends to throw to", but that's not true. Again, LaCosse just caught 24 NFL passes. You could say "sure, but there's a new offense in town", but that offense just tossed less than 1 pass per game to the tight ends. I guess you could say "but this offense, this specific one right here, this offense has yet to have a tight end like this to throw to". That's true.
I mean, no Illini offense has had a tight end like this if we're just looking at physical attributes. Ford is shockingly fast for his size, shockingly agile for his size - a true freak athlete. I remember hearing about him at the junior combine during one of the senior all star games (I think it was the US Army All American Game?). They bring in juniors to work out (the seniors are playing in the game), and Ford opened eyes as a junior.
Not long after that, he started climbing the rankings (and gathering an insane number of offers). He almost committed to Illinois, then did commit to Arkansas, then decommitted from Arkansas, then seemingly almost committed several other places. He named Alabama his leader but didn't commit. He visited Texas officially and supposedly was ready to "pull the trigger" but didn't, then he visted Auburn and rumors swirled of an Auburn/Alabama battle, and finally he committed to Georgia. And now, after six months at Georgia, a transfer to Illinois.
So this is the type of player we don't see very often. The type of athlete that Ohio State and Oklahoma are built upon. When you watch the College Football Playoff and you say to yourself "do we even play the same SPORT?", this is why. It's because they win recruiting battles for Luke Fords (and Marquez Beasons and Isaiah Williamses). So it's a huge deal to land a kid like that in Champaign.
I just wish it was at a position other than tight end. I know this is just my deal (my decade-plus tight end hangup), but it's the main thing I see when I look at Luke Ford. I've built up hope so many times that "this is the year we finally utilize the tight end" only to see it not happen that I'm pretty much at "I'll believe it when I see it" now.
I'll put it this way. I'm very intrigued to see how we use him. There's no way we take an athlete like this and don't utilize him on the field, but we didn't see much tight end stuff this past season, so maybe... split him out wide with the wide receivers? Line him up as an h-back and let him sneak out into the flat? I don't think we'll use him as a prototypical tight end very much (could be wrong), so I'm interested to see how we use him.
Because we'd better use him. 15+ seasons of "will we EVER throw to the tight end?" has to come to an end at some point, right?
Tom Cruises. He's ranked higher than Beason and Williams, and both of them got 5 Cruises, but I don't see him as that type of recruit. He's one of the best athletes we've recruited in 20 years, but Tom Cruise ratings take into account "compared to the other players we're bringing in, what kind of impact can a player like this have?". I boosted Jartavius Martin because I thought he was exactly the defensive back Lovie needed. So please don't flinch when I lower the Cruises of a transfer who I'm not sure how we'll use.
Luke Ford - an impressive, yet probably not what you were expecting, four Tom Cruises