The 90 Illini - 70 - 66

Jun 29, 2019

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We're crossing into the 60's now, which usually means "lettermen". That's the old fashioned term for "participated on the varsity team in a meaningful way", if you will, meaning these are the players who will play. The might only be the fourth string tight end blocking for extra points during seven games, but they'll make it on the field.

70. Ezekiel Holmes

Defensive End
Hirschi High School / Wichita Falls, Texas
Redshirt Freshman (4 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 3

What I Know About Him:

I would have Holmes higher on this list (we need defensive end depth with Roundtree out, he's had a year in the weight room), but I've really only seen him held out for injuries at various camps/spring practices. I've mostly viewed him in street clothes. And I know he tweeted something about offseason surgery. So, yeah, injuries are a concern here. If you don't play (and don't practice much) and are having surgery, you get flagged for injury concerns.

Sometimes that's nothing. We've seen players take their redshirt year as "doctors clean up lingering high school injuries" years, so maybe that was the case here. Or maybe he just had one injury in practice and had to have surgery. Lovie doesn't talk about it, so all we can do is speculate. But "what do I know about him"? Injuries.

What I Expect From Him:

I really liked his high school film (Lovie has a type for weakside defensive ends - tall, skinny kids with great footspeed who he can build into a weakside end). We've seen this in each class (Isaiah Gay in 2017, Seth Coleman in the 2019 class). Holmes was that guy from 2018.

So I'm anxious to see where he's at come camp. We've seen some workout videos of Isaiah Gay, and he's bulked up significantly from the "tall, skinny kid" we recruited in 2017. Holmes didn't practice in the spring, but will he be full-go (and a bit more bulked-up?) once fall camp starts? We shall see.

69. Donny Navarro

Wide Receiver
Neuqua Valley High School / Naperville, Illinois (Transfer from Valparaiso)
Redshirt Sophomore (walkon, 3 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: not rated (walkon)

What I Know About Him:

I added Navarro to my "10 names you'll learn" post on New Years Day. And if you went to the spring game, I think you learned his name. There were no statistics kept, but I'm fairly certain he was the leading receiver.

Navarro did the Fej thing. No Division I offers, went to a small school (Navarro to Valpo; Fej went to NAIA St. Xavier), decided after his freshman year that they wanted to give Division I football a shot, so they walked on at Illinois. After sitting out a year (transfer rules, even when transferring from small schools), it's time to take that shot.

What I Expect From Him:

I have zero idea what to expect from the wide receivers. This will be my 11th blogged-about training camp, and I cannot think of any position in those 11 years that was more of a toss-up. Honestly, any of 15 receivers might start.

OK, maybe that's hyperbole. It's probably not 15. Wait, is it 15? I'm going to try to do this off the top of my head:

Ricky Smalling
Trenard Davis
Dominic Stampley
Justice Williams
Caleb Reams
Trevon Sidney
Josh Imatorbhebhe
Jordan Holmes
Dylan Thomas
Donny Navarro
Carlos Sandy
Edwin Carter
Casey Washington
Dalevon Campbell
Matt Judd

I'm going to go look up who I missed. KENDALL SMITH. Forgot he switched back from safety to wide receiver. So yes, there are 15 options for wide receiver - 11 on scholarship, four walkons. And two of those walkons will appear on this list because those two walkons (Jordan Holmes and Navarro) were our top two receivers in the spring game.

So I'm going with this on wide receivers this season: your guess is as good as mine.

68. Dylan Wyatt

Defensive Back
St. Mary's College High School / Albany, California
True Sophomore (4 years to play 3)
Tom Cruises: 2.5

What I Know About Him:

There's always this thing for one of the positions where a wide open race for a spot on the depth chart means that three guys' rankings on this list are held too low. For example, I'm fairly sure of the backup linebackers so they will appear in the 30's and 40's on my list (48 players on the two-deep when you include kicker and punter). But when there's three guys chasing one spot, I'll have all three of those guys in the 50's and 60's knowing full well that one of them will be in the top-48. I just don't know which one yet.

That's the case for Wyatt, I think. I believe that Nate Hobbs and Jartavius Martin will be the starting cornerbacks and I believe that Marquez Beason will get a ton of snaps backing them up (a rotation of three, really). But the fourth guy is a race between 3-4 guys, and one of those guys is Dylan Wyatt.

(I'm doing it again - writing "what I expect from him" under "what I know about him".)

What I Expect From Him:

Wyatt played in 10 games last year as a true freshman. According to my chart, he missed the Penn State game and the Nebraska game, both times with injuries. That's more than Nick Walker and Ron Hardge played, so maybe I should have Wyatt ahead of both of them on this list.

But this spring, it seemed like the order was Walker-Hardge-Wyatt, so that's why they'll appear like that on this list. Really, it would be nice if one of them could redshirt. We might have a little more depth there this season, so maybe one of them can play in four games and grab a redshirt.

67. Keith Randolph

Defensive Lineman
Belleville West High School / Belleville, Illinois
True Freshman (5 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 3.5

What I Know About Him:

I feel like it gets a bit forgotten how big of a recruiting win this was. Randolph was all set to make a selection last summer (and I think it would have been Illinois over Purdue and Wyoming), but then he began to blow up a bit. By December, I thought he had blown up past us with Iowa, Michigan State, and Florida State offers. But, somehow, he picked Illinois.

And he was quite the athlete in high school. I never saw him play football, but I did see him play basketball as the man-in-the-middle for two-time state champion Belleville West. Randolph ate up the space, EJ Liddell (snif) was Mr. Everything.

What I Expect From Him:

Ideally, the other guys are ready and he redshirts. I think he can be a solid Big Ten defensive lineman in his fourth and fifth years. He was destined to be that fifth-year Iowa or Michigan State defensive lineman we all hate. Those schools always redshirt these guys, so hopefully we redshirt these guys. Bulk him up, possibly move him from strongside defensive end to 3-technique defensive tackle, profit.

But with Roundtree's injury, we might need him this season. I think his classmate (Moses Okpala) is more likely to fill in at SDE, so I have Okpala higher on The 90 Illini. There's still a chance that Randoph plays, though. I hope we can redshirt him, but we might need him.

66. Coran Taylor

Peoria Central High School / Peoria, Illinois
Redshirt Freshman (4 years to play 4)
Tom Cruises: 2.5

What I Know About Him:

Has there ever been a bigger wildcard player? I thought about putting him 82nd on this list and I thought about putting him 6th. He was probably the best quarterback in the spring game, so we should be talking about him starting, right? But he was third on the depth chart, and we just added a grad transfer QB, so he enters the fall as the 4th string QB, right? But Isaiah Williams and Brandon Peters don't know the playbook yet, so he's clearly the #2 guy (maybe the #1 guy?) as camp starts. What if he holds onto that spot. What if he's fourth string again?

See what I mean? I have no idea what to do with Coran Taylor. I had this theory last year that he was only fourth string because of an intentional redshirt. Some kids who come from a rougher academic background get the "let's take a year with no pressure on the football side and get used to the rigors of being an Illinois student". Given my academic probation after my freshman year at Illinois, I certainly could have used that advice. And I didn't have football to worry about. No offense to my small town high school but... I was not prepared.

So perhaps we would have seen Taylor even start a game last year had he not been "held" at fourth string all year? I'm uncomfortable speculating about this now, so I'll just land on "there's a chance he'll be higher on the depth chart than you think" and leave it at that.

What I Expect From Him:

No idea. I honestly could see any outcome. Starting QB against Akron (I mean, he was the best option in the spring game), to position change by August 15th (I could get down with Coran Taylor, outside linebacker). I really have no idea what to expect.


Eagle on June 29, 2019 @ 02:50 PM

The Fej thing has worked on more than one occasion. Zach Grant did it too, going from Augustana to Big Ten starter. By the way, if Zach is still on staff for this year, he’d be a great interview.

Bear8287 on June 29, 2019 @ 03:03 PM

  1. Ricky Smalling
  2. Trenard Davis
  3. Dominic Stampley
  4. Justice Williams
  5. Caleb Reams
  6. Trevon Sidney
  7. Josh Imatorbhebhe
  8. Jordan Holmes
  9. Dylan Thomas
  10. Donny Navarro
  11. Carlos Sandy
  12. Edwin Carter
  13. Casey Washington
  14. Dalevon Campbell
  15. Matt Judd
  16. Kendall Smith

You just rattled off 15 players' names off the top of your head and then remembered that you had still forgotten one? That's amazing. I wonder how many of the coaches could've done that? Geez Robert.

So yes, there are 15 options for wide receiver - 11 on scholarship, four walkons.

Okay, so maybe the math still needs a little work ;-D, but you got the hard stuff right and that's why we read your work. Good stuff!


NC_OrangeKrush on June 30, 2019 @ 10:34 AM

Indisputable... Illinois Football writers and bloggers...??

Keep it up!

DB50 on June 30, 2019 @ 12:42 PM

With all due respect Robert, even though there are 15 potential WRs, there are only three I can see making a real difference this year, Smalling, Immatorbhebhe & Sidney. The last two especially due to hands & potential. They could turn a weakness from last year into a strength in 2019.

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