The 90 Illini #3: Isaiah Williams
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Let's just start here. Isaiah Williams isn't on many preseason All Big Ten teams. He's preseason 4th-team All Big Ten in Athlon's Big Ten preview but I think that's it. That means Athlon has him as either the 7th or 8th-best Big Ten receiver this season. And that's his best rating. Other publications didn't list IW at all.
So there must be really good receivers returning in the Big Ten, right? Honestly, I'm asking. I haven't looked this up. Let's take this journey together and see if IW should be considered a top-6 returning WR in the Big Ten.
2021 WR receptions list:
1. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (tOSU) - This one makes total sense. He'll be a 1st-team All American this year and a Heisman candidate.
2. David Bell (Pur) - Went off to the NFL.
3. Jahan Dotson (PSU) - Off to the NFL.
4. Garrett Wilson (tOSU) - Off to the NFL.
5. Chris Olave (tOSU) - Off to the NFL.
6. Parker Washington (PSU) - Should have a great season. I'd pair him with JSN as my 1st Team All Big Ten WR duo.
7. Rakeem Jarrett (Mary) - He's really good. I do think I'd have him above IW.
8. Jayden Reed (MSU) - Also really good. This is starting to make more sense now.
9. Milton Wright (Pur) - Academically ineligible for the 2022 season (and I believe he left the team?).
10. Bo Melton (Rut) - Off to the NFL.
11. Jackson Anthrop (Pur) - Signed as a UDFA with the Colts.
12. Isaiah Williams (IL)
At the very least, I think Isaiah Williams will be the 5th-best wide receiver in the Big Ten this year. And, honestly, he was 12th last season in the worst passing offense in the Big Ten (121st nationally). If those numbers improve to just an average passing offense, won't Williams' numbers skyrocket?
(Also, I'm even more "why is everyone so high on Purdue?" after compiling this list. Top three receivers all gone? That's so incredibly difficult to replace. And when realize that Karlaftis is gone as well...)
Need to stay on track because I have to write three of these this afternoon. So let's get to IW...
3. Isaiah Williams
Uniform number: 1
Year in school: Redshirt Sophomore (without the Covid waiver, 2 years to play 2; with the Covid waiver, technically 3 years to play 3)
Height: 5'-10" -- Weight: 180 lbs.
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
High School: Trinity Catholic HS
Five best offers: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU
Tom Cruise rating:
2021 statistics: 47 receptions for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns. 61 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Background and 2022 Outlook
I'm going to combine the Background and Outlook sections to make one long point.
There are two trajectories here. One where IW picks, say, Oklahoma, and one where he picks Illinois. Both trajectories likely end up in the NFL (the NFL will find talent at Bemidji State so they'll find talent at Illinois).
IW was a consensus 5-star when he verballed to Illinois. He later dropped in the rankings (no Illinois recruit could ever stay at a 5-star - those 25-30 spots are reserved for players going to the top tier schools), but let's just talk about the two trajectories. One where he goes to Oklahoma as a wide receiver recruit and the other where he goes to Illinois as a QB recruit.
Remember, both end up at the same place. If he goes to Oklahoma, the national hype remains strong throughout his college career. If he goes to Illinois, the national hype is non-existent until he has a breakout moment. But hype is pointless when it comes to the NFL draft process. It's the place where some over-hyped WR from LSU or USC goes undrafted while Laviska Shenault from Colorado goes 42nd. They'll find you.
So in my mind, there's two paths for IW. He chose the Illinois path (thank God). Had he chosen the Oklahoma path, for starters, he would have stayed a 5-star in the rankings. And this summer, he would be everywhere. The5-star WR at Oklahoma who is ready to be the next great Sooner receiver in his redshirt sophomore season. You should see this guy in the open field. Every time you see him turn on a dime you're reminded of why he was a 5-star in high school.
Instead, he chose the Illinois path. So there's no hype at all. Only maybe the BTN crew knows his name outside of Champaign. He's not recognized, he's not hyped. His table at Big Ten Media Days looked like this for most of his 45-minute media availability:
Took this photo today. There were more people interviewing IW at times - this is near the end of his 45 minutes sitting there - but the lack of other Big Ten media talking to him was interesting. Nobody knows. pic.twitter.com/JqQdbUpPpN— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) July 28, 2022
But that doesn't change the kind of player he is, or the reasoning behind recruiting services listing him as a 5-star before he chose Illinois. This is one of the highest rated recruits in the entire Big Ten West. He was 12th in WR receptions last year and seven of the players in front of him are gone. If this was Oklahoma, he'd be on national watch lists and surrounded at Media Days. He's not, so everyone just assumes he's the same ol' 2-star Illini receiver.
No one knows.