Signing Day Summary - 2021 Class

Feb 4, 2021

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This post is 54% cut-and-paste. I took the individual player write-ups from the first Signing Day and brought them over here. And then I added the two players who signed yesterday. And then I gave out my Asamoah Award. And then I wrote some stuff on a small, hybrid class like this. And then I came back up here and wrote this intro.

Let's begin with the 14 players who signed in December. WAIT, let's not do that. This list is in order, so I'll just give you all 16 signees and put the two new guys - Joshua McCray and Dwayne Johnson - where they fit in ranking order.

These players are listed in order of my own rankings - Tom Cruises. If you already read the December post, just skip down and read Joshua McCray and Dwayne Johnson and then go to all of the (new) paragraphs below the list. Actually, read the first two because I changed some things around. Actually just read the whole thing.

Patrick Bryant
Wide Receiver - Jacksonville, FL

I give myself one "senior film" exception every year where I get to re-rank a player after seeing senior film. So I'm adding half a Cruise to Patrick Bryant's ranking. He was 3.25, I'm bumping him to 3.75. Senior film is really good and I feel like he's a receiver who might play earlier rather than later. He needed to be ranked higher than a low 3-star on Rivals and a mid 3-star on ESPN and 247.

Here's the clip I included in the December post. I just think this kid is really good.

Brody Wisecarver
Offensive Lineman - St. Louis, MO

Ranked as he best player in the class by most of the ranking services (and is a 4-star on ESPN). Since I wrote the December post, though, three seniors announced that they were coming back. Which means every offensive lineman kind of slides down the list a little bit. For example, I believe Palcho coming back means that Julian Pearl will use all six of his eligible years. Pearl redshirted in 2018, was a redshirt freshman in 2019, and started four games in 2020 as a redshirt sophomore after Palcho tore his ACL. Palcho returns for one more year so that makes me think Pearl is a 6-year guy - he'll be a redshirt sophomore again next year (Covid rule), then start at right tackle in 2022 and 2023. So for Wisecarver, if he ends up at RT (that's where I had him in the Smith offense - might be different in this new offense), would be looking at 2024 (as a redshirt junior) when he grabs the starting role.

Josh Kreutz
Offensive Lineman - Chicago, IL

I'll be honest - I was a little surprised he still signed. He was kind of always going to go to Illinois because his dad played for Lovie with the Bears. So when Lovie was fired, I guess I assumed he'd look around for something else. But his LOI is in, so he'll be in orange and blue. Probably a center like his dad. If Doug Kramer doesn't return (February update: Doug Kramer is returning), it's possible that Blake Jeresaty is the center next year and the Kreutz takes over in 2022 as a redshirt freshman.

Daniel "Snook" Edwards
Cornerback - Winter Park, FL

I'm guessing cornerback based on his measurables, but maybe CTBNL (February update: the Coach To Be Named Later is Bret Bielema. Duh.) has a different kind of defense and wants Snook at WR. Or safety. That's the big thing about coaching changes. I'll go to spring practice in March (yes, spring practices will likely be closed - let me dream until I can't) and I'll see Sydney Brown at linebacker and I'll be all "innnnteresting". So for now, Snook is a corner, but we need to meet CTBNL before we decide where he really goes. (I think he goes at corner.)

DD Snyder
Safety - Tampa, FL

Snyder is probably the last of the "really like this kid - really think he can contribute" guys in this class. That means I see five contributors in this class. Oof. But I really do like Snyder on film and think he can be an answer at safety sooner rather than later. I do think CTBNL will look at the roster he inherits and immediately go pull out film of his recruiting class to see if he has any safeties at all.

Sedarious McConnell
Defensive Lineman - Atlanta, GA

This was a decent pull (Pitt, Minnesota, Louisville, West Virginia) out of Atlanta. Really raw, though. I believe I comped him to Tymir Oliver after watching his film - a tweener who probably ends up at DT. Tweeners can be helpful, but they're tweeners because they're not quite a defensive end and not quite a defensive tackle. Hopefully he settles well into one of those roles in CTBNL's defense.

Joriell Washington
Safety - Fort Meyers, FL

Need safeties. He's a safety. Good bloodlines (his dad played at NC State) but early interest and offers from schools like Oregon never materialized and he ended up choosing between Boston College, Illinois, Iowa State, and South Florida. Chose Illinois. (And then, this week, decommitted after Lovie was fired. And likely didn't hear from anyone. And quickly recommitted.)

Tyler Strain
Cornerback - Milton, FL

If there's a sleeper in this class it's probably Strain or the next guy (Dylan Rosiek). I'm not going to give out my Asamoah Award (lower-ranked player who could surprise) until after CTBNL adds more players in January, but Strain is on the radar for that award. I have a soft spot for short, quick cornerbacks in the V'Angelo Bentley mold.

Joshua McCray
Running Back - Enterprise, AL

Here's where I put Bielema recruit #1. Please note that there's nothing to read into this here. This year, the vast majority of kids signed on early signing day which was three days before Bret Bielema got the job. He has focused mostly on transfers since then. He did add two high school players, but we can't make any "this is the level of recruit Bielema will bring in" assumptions from that. He just... found two recruits who hadn't signed anywhere yet.

I was quite interested yesterday when Bielema talked about the teams that made a run at McCray the last two weeks trying to flip him. The only hint he gave was that it was "some of the same teams" that Bielema had to fight off for Melvin Gordon when he recruited him to Wisconsin (Gordon and McCray had the same HS coach). Any time you're having to fight off other programs for a recruit just before signing day, it's a good sign. We just don't know if those teams were Kent State and Troy or if those teams were Auburn and Nebraska.

I'm guessing most of that renewed interest was still defense-based, though. Most of McCray's offers were to play defense. We offered him a running back spot, and he took it.

Dylan Rosiek
Linebacker - Tarpon Springs, FL

He wasn't "my guy" - Trevor Moffitt was. But Moffitt decommitted and flipped to App State, so now Rosiek has to be the linebacker sleeper. And because linebacker is really thin right now, Rosiek might be needed as soon as next year. If he's not ready (I don't think he will be, strength-wise), you might see a transfer or two at LB once CTBNL gets settled in. (Update: we added a HS LB and a transfer LB.)

Samari Collier
Quarterback - DeSoto, TX

I know this is low compared to where others have him, but I didn't really see it on film. And yes, I've seen his senior film. Hope I'm wrong. Moving on.

DJ Johnson
Linebacker - Snellville, GA

Bielema mentioned trying him "everywhere", from inside linebacker to outside linebacker to defensive end. So I think Johnson will be a work-in-progress recruit where one spring we'll see him at outside linebacker and then by training camp he'll be at defensive end.

There's much more to be learned about Johnson as the defense is better defined. Once we see what it is, I feel like we'll learn more about why he was one of the two recruits Bielema added in December and January. For now, I'm still at "raw defensive athlete who fits.. where?" with him. Not an insult - just need to see what they're planning first.

Zach Barlev
Offensive Lineman - Plainfield, IL

Hope I'm wrong.

Kalen Villanueva
Linebacker - Falls Church, VA

Hope I'm wrong.

Josh Gesky
Offensive Lineman - Menteno, IL

Hope I'm wrong.

Prince Green
ATH - Griffin, GA

Hope I'm wrong.

I'll now update my average Cruises. I did a partial list in December (only listing the average of the high school recruits), but I have everyone evaluated now so let's see where these 22 new players (these 16 guys plus the six transfers - Armstrong, Hart, Hayden, Hudson, Rosenthal, and Smith) end up.

For these 16 high school recruits, the average is 2.363 Cruises. Add in the six transfers and that moves to 2.474. Over the last six classes, that would put this class fifth out of six. Here's the order for those classes:

2019: 2.820
2017: 2.730
2020: 2.640
2018: 2.563
2021: 2.474
2016: 2.304 (Cubit class)

To scale that a bit for you, I'll give you some estimates of what those numbers would mean. I added a few things since the last time I put this list together:

A typical Ohio State class would average around 4.2 Cruises
A solid Penn State class that keeps them right on tOSU's heels: 3.7
Wisconsin classes probably would average around 3.3
A decent Northwestern class that keeps them competing in the B1G West: 2.8
Average Tim Beckman class at Illinois would have been around 2.5
What Purdue was pulling in under Darrell Hazell in the mid-2010's: 2.2
An average MAC class: 1.9

So this class falls somewhere between "average Tim Beckman class at Illinois" and "what Purdue was pulling in under Darrell Hazell". We had a bowl to sell and couldn't sell it. I wrote for a year (over a year, actually - the first time I mentioned it was December 2019) that this needed to be a top-35 class. Year five, six wins and a bowl year four, time to crank recruiting up a notch or two. And in the end, it didn't come anywhere close. Extremely disappointing.

Asamoah Award

Each year I give an award, named for former Illini offensive lineman Jon Asamoah, to the player who I believe is under-ranked. Asamoah looked like a future star to me but Rivals and Scout made him a 2-star. So on the old IlliniBoard Football Fan Forum (when this site was just a message board), I started handing out my Asamoah Award to the "he's ranked way too low" guy. It used to be restricted to 2-star recruits, but then Rivals and Scout (now 247) started giving nearly every recruit at least three stars, so I had to change the rules.

I also realized that because I didn't do a post like this last year (a February "here's an update on the December Signing Day Summary" post after a few more players joined), so I never handed out the award. I later fixed that in another post over the summer and picked Kevin Tyler as the winner for the 2020 class.

So here's the list over the last four years:

2017: RB Mike Epstein
2018: DB Jartavius Martin
2019: DE Seth Coleman
2020: OL Kevin Tyler

For 2021, I think my choice is easy. He's a mid three-star in the composite rankings but I think that's too low. I just bumped him to the highest-rated player in the class. He had offers from Florida State, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Penn State, and with our needs at WR, I think he plays as a true freshman. 2021 Asamoah Award winner: Patrick Bryant.


I'm guessing we'll eventually view this class like we view the 2016 class. Since I started giving out Tom Cruises in 2014, those are the two lowest-rated classes. The 2016 class was recruited by an interim coach and the 2021 class was mostly Lovie and a little Bielema.

I think it's as simple as this. In five years, when we look back at the 2016 class, we'll have 6 names we remember and 17 names who will be "I don't remember him at all" for the average fan. Here's how I see those lists breaking down:

"I remember him" - Doug Kramer, James McCourt, Stanley Green, Tymir Oliver, Dele Harding, Jake Hansen.
"I don't remember him at all" - Eli Peters, Ahmari Hayes, Dominic Thieman, Griffin Palmer, Kurt Gavin, Kenyon Jackson, Brandon Jones, Zarrian Holcombe, Evan Jones, Christion Abercrombie, Darta Lee, Andrew Trainer, MJ McGriff, Ayo Shogbonyo (maybe we remember his one great year?), Eddie Fish, Harvey Clayton, Tre Nation.

So take the names talked about in this post - the 16 high school recruits plus the six transfers - and maybe pick out six names you'll remember by 2031. That's probably how this will go. We'll look back ten years from now and say "I remember Patrick Bryant, Brody Wisecarver, DD Snyder, Josh Kreutz, Jafar Armstrong, and Eddie Smith but I cannot remember any of the other 16 guys on that list".

Part of that will be because of the coaching change. There might be early enrollees (like Eli Peters in 2016) who take one look at the new schemes in spring ball and leave before they even get to their first game. There's always turnover from the last class the old coach brought in.

But part of that, unfortunately, will also be because this is what I believe to be the second-worst recruiting class in the last nine years. I was so hopeful of something coming together after the bowl game in 2019 and then it was Lovie's worst class. That's probably the way we'll always remember it.

That and Heisman Trophy winner Patrick Bryant.


BelieveInIllinois on February 4, 2021 @ 01:31 PM

I cannot disagree more with you putting Kenyon Jackson and Ayo Shogbonyo in the 'don't remember him' category. Ayo had a good senior year and we wanted him back for a 5th. Kenyon Jackson gave us solid minutes and played all 4 years when he should have redshirted. You lumped them in with guys that got kicked off the team or left early.

Robert on February 4, 2021 @ 01:39 PM

I mean, I’ll remember all 24 guys. Maybe you will too.

But I referenced the “average fan” here. I don’t think the average fan would be able to place either guy by 2026.

IlliniBobLoblaw on February 4, 2021 @ 02:08 PM

I don’t think the average fan would be able to place either guy by 2026.

Me in 2026: "Ayo Shogbonyo? Is he still playing in the D League or did he end up in Israel?"

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on February 4, 2021 @ 07:23 PM

Saddest name in the 17 (not THAT seventeen...) Darta Lee.. Got into trouble, and then never developed the way he should have at UTEP. As a freshman I thought he would be a 3 year starter at OL...

firet92 on February 6, 2021 @ 08:26 AM

Agree wholeheartedly. When he was starting OL as a freshman and then the 2017 class coming in (Larry Boyd), I thought we were set.

Brave Illini on February 5, 2021 @ 08:02 AM

It would be interesting to know how you view our roster and prospects for next season. We all felt good about our roster and prospects last season, and we return most of the same players. Compared to other teams, shouldn't we stack up, roster-wise, pretty well? I guess an unknown is how last year's freshman and sophomores, and other red-shirts, may contribute in 2021, as compared to those on other teams. Should we assume little to no contribution from incoming freshmen? Can we compare meaningful transfers out and in to those on other teams? Based on that kind of analysis, it seems we would have a valid basis on which to judge the new coaching staff's actual coaching effectiveness.

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