A Peek At The 2021 Two-Deep

Apr 10, 2019

I'll get to the basketball LLUOI soon, I promise (once I figure out who he is), but in the last two posts I referenced how these first three recruits were filling holes I was worried about on the 2021 roster, and that got me thinking about the 2021 roster, and that got me thinking that I should put together a two-deep to see what holes remain.

Please keep in mind that this is a 2021 depth chart, not 2020. Often, when I do these future depth charts, people think two years in advance and not three. This is a depth chart for AFTER the 2017 freshmen class (Smalling and Palcho and Roundtree and Hobbs and 20 others) all graduate.

And keep in mind - a lot of the names on the eventual 2021 depth chart aren't known yet. There will be many sophomores from the 2020 class and maybe even some freshmen from the 2020 class who work their way into the mix (especially on the second string). But by then, the starters should mostly all be seniors and juniors, so let's see where we're headed.

QB | Rivers (SR) -OR- Williams (JR)
RB | Love (SO) | Norwood (rs-JR)
TE | Ford (SR) | Barker (SR)
LT | Slaughter (rs-JR) | Pearl (rs-JR)
LG | K. Green (SR) | Engel (JR-walkon)
C | Stover (SR-walkon) | Plohr (rs-SO)
RG | V. Brown (rs-JR) | Harper (rs-FR)
RT | Myers (rs-JR) | Kirts (rs-SO)
WR-X | Ja. Thompson (SO) | Carter (rs-JR)
WR-Z | Washington (JR) | Sandy (SR)
WR-W | Cumby (JR) | Holmes (SR-walkon)
WDE | Coleman (JR) | Holmes (rs-JR)
DT | Oladipo (SR) | Randolph (JR)
DT | Avery (SR) | Woods (rs-SR)
SDE | Okpala (JR) | Pate (rs-SR)
WLB | Tolson (SR) | Barnes (rs-SO)
MLB | Cooper (JR) | McEachern (SR-walkon)
SLB | Ware (SR) | DeGroot (SR)
CB | Martin (SR) | Hardge (SR)
SS | S. Brown (SR) | Daniel (JR-walkon)
FS | Joseph (SR) | Jo. Thompson (rs-SO)
CB | Beason (JR) | Wyatt (SR)
Kicker | Griffin (JR)
Punter | Don't Know Who Replaces Hayes Yet
Longsnapper | Gaines (rs-JR)
Punt Return | Beason (JR)
KO Return | Cumby (JR)/Norwood (rs-JR)

Again, before you say "wow, second string {whatever} looks really thin", remember that many 2020 recruits and a few 2021 recruits will fill out that second string. We are projecting a depth chart three seasons from now. We might even get five transfers between now and Labor Day Weekend 2021 who will be in the starting lineup for that game. Lots more to learn.

But doing this now allows us to see some of that. What do we see? A list:

  • Safety is probably the biggest concern? I really like Kerby Joseph the athlete, but I'm not sold yet on him being the starting safety next to Sydney Brown after Tony Adams graduates (although I hope he gets there). And behind him I'm putting Joseph Thompson (who might end up at corner) and a walkon. It's possible we only know one of the four names at safety right now. Red alert for the 2020 recruiting class.
  • Offensive line has a lot of guards (especially now that Verdis Brown has moved over), but does it have many tackles? I'm putting Jordyn Slaughter and Kievan Myers as the starting tackles that season after Lowe and Palcho graduate, but are they tackles or are they better suited for guard? Ideally this list would have two known tackles and then Slaughter and Myers are battling with Brown and Harper for the guard spots. But right now, I don't see known tackles (unless Julian Pearl turns into one).
  • Probably need to add a punter this year? After the success of Blake Hayes, I'm guessing they might go the Australia route again, so maybe they just let Hayes boom it for four years and then find another Aussie in the 2021 class. But ideally, you add the punter this class and he redshirts for a year as the backup in 2020.
  • I feel pretty good about that defensive line, even with all of the seniors that would have just graduated in 2020 (Roundtree if he's still here, Carney, Gay). There's some more sorting to do among the strongside defensive ends and the 3-technique defensive ends - I could see four names on that list (Woods, Oladipo, Randolph, and Pate) playing either spot - but I feel good about the depth. Landing the trio of Coleman, Randolph, and Okpala (for all your corporate tax law needs) in this last class was really big.
  • Wide receiver still needs help. I'm putting Kyron Cumby there as a slot receiver but he might be used as a tailback. Which makes the position even thinner. I think we have several solid options in the slot and I think we have several options at split end, but I don't see many prototypical Z-receivers (flanker - think Malik Turner). I'm putting incoming freshman Casey Washington there because his is the only film that screams "flanker". I'm probably too hung up on prototypes, though.

And then there's linebacker. This one gets it's own section, not just a bullet point.

Quick, name the last great Illini linebacker. You really can't right? OK, name the best linebacker this decade. You had to think for a while before coming up with Jonathan Brown, right? I mean, who was the last Illini linebacker to make first team All Big Ten? Probably J Leman in 2007, right? Remember when we used to try to be all "hey Penn State, we're the REAL Linebacker U?"

(Here's a fun fact. I really do think that if you took every single Illini linebacker from 1996 to 2019, only J Leman would push the 1994 starters for playing time. 50-some linebackers later we still haven't found anyone as good as the four guys in 1994.)

When I fill out this linebacker list, I still don't feel it yet. Obviously there's hope that Shammond Cooper is that guy. He's the highest-rated linebacker to pick Illinois since Sam Carson in 2004. But when making a list like this I want to see four names I feel really good about (like the defensive tackles) and I only see a few I'm hopeful will turn into Big Ten linebackers by 2021. Year 24 of trying to find another great Illini linebacking corps and we're still not there.

OK just one more paragraph on this. If we gave every Illini linebacker this decade a rating and we gave every Wisconsin linebacker a rating, where would Jonathan Brown be on the list? Maybe 16th or so? It feels like Wisconsin has had 15 linebackers the last nine seasons who are better than our best linebacker of the decade. I mean, the national college football linebacker award is named after an Illini linebacker and we haven't recruited or developed the position well for 25 years.

Alright, now I'm done.

Overall, this exercise confirmed my excitement over the first three commits in this class. All three fill spots here that ease my concerns over certain positions. We'll learn 40 more names for this list between now and 2021 training camp, so yes, this exercise was conducted way too early, but I learned what I set out to learn: the 2021 cliff after the 30 seniors graduate looks a little less steep.

Now, time to add more 2020 recruits who might be ready to contribute by 2021.


Dr. Chim Richalds on April 10 @ 07:41 PM CDT

This exercise reminds me a bit of the fabled "2015 Rose Bowl Depth Chart" of lore - but that's why this is the best Illini writing on the internet.

Illiniiniowa on April 11 @ 06:53 AM CDT

Your point about the last decade of lb play remains, but I think you're selling Jonathan Brown short. He was a hell of a player on a crap sandwich defense. He was better than more than a few Wisky guys

illiniranger on April 11 @ 10:53 AM CDT

Danny Clark was probably our best LB since 1994, started in 44 of 45 games he appeared in, 3x Honorable Mention All Big Ten, 6th in career tackles, and had a roughly 10 year NFL career. I think he absolutely would have pushed for playing time in 1994.

I would put him ahead of Leman, although J was great at Illinois, particularly in 2006 and 2007.

neale stoner on April 11 @ 11:51 AM CDT

Won’t Ford have left for the draft?

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