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The first year I started blogging I made up a bunch of rules ("uh, during the bye week each year I'll look at the depth chart for the following season"), and here we are 13 years later and I'm still following the same exact rules.
It is now the bye week. Here is my 2023 three-deep.
First, two rules:
1. I'm including all players who have another year of eligibility. That includes Chase Brown. I believe that Chase Brown will depart for the draft (which is the same time that his twin brother graduates), but Chase still has another year of eligibility (he redshirted in 2019 as a transfer from Western Michigan) which he could use if he wants to. As you will see, at least from this September 2022 view, a lot of 2023 depends on which players leave and which players return.
2. You're going to want to say "yeah but we'll probably add someone from the portal there" at several spots (and you're probably correct). But I don't know the names of those players yet, and three-deeps are all about listing the players at each position.
To the three-deep. As I do every time I make one of these, to cover different offensive and defensive looks, I'm listing 12 spots on offense and 12 spots on defense:
QB | Sitkowski (SR) | Leary (rs-FR) | Michaux (SO)
RB | C. Brown (SR) | McCray (JR) | Love (JR)
TE1 | Reiman (JR) | O. Anderson (rs-FR) | Cargill (rs-FR)
TE2 | Boyer (SO) | Moore (JR) | Guinn (FR)
LT | Pearl (SR) | Barlev (rs-SO) | Møller (rs-FR)
LG | Slaughter (SR) | Davis (JR) | Leonard (rs-FR)
C | Jo. Kreutz (rs-SO) | Okla (rs-FR) | McMillen (FR)
RG | Crisler (JR) | Gesky (rs-SO) | Fries (rs-FR)
RT | Adams (SR) | Whitenack (rs-FR) | Cronin (JR-walkon)
WR | Williams (JR) | Beatty (SO) | S. Miller (rs-FR)
WR | Hightower (SR) | C. Washington (SR) | Hollins (rs-FR)
WR | P. Bryant (JR) | M. Scott (rs-SO walkon) | Thompson (SR)
ROLB | Coleman (JR) | Cooper (JR) | Badie (rs-FR)
RDL | Randolph (JR) | Wilkins (SR) | Kirts (JR)
NT | T. Edwards (JR) | V. Brown (SR) | Lorenzo (rs-FR walkon)
LDL | Newton (JR) | B. Barnes (SR) | McConnell (rs-SO)
LOLB | Jacas (SO) | Holmes (SR) | A. Bryant (rs-SO)
ILB1 | T. Barnes (SR) | Odeluga (rs-SO) | Kreutz (SO)
ILB2 | Hart (SR) | Rosiek (rs-SO) | Meed (JR)
CB | Witherspoon (SR) | Strain (rs-SO) | Wilcher (FR)
CB | Nicholson (JR) | Mc-Cantos (rs-FR) | Snyder (rs-SO)
STAR | Rooks (SO) | X. Scott (rs-FR) | Clarke (FR)
SS | Turner (JR) | T. Griffin (rs-FR) | Tobe (FR)
FS | Bailey (SO) | Curry (rs-SO) | Green (rs-SO)
Kicker | C. Griffin (SR) | McManus (rs-FR) | Olano (FR)
Punter | Robertson (SO) | Leff (rs-FR) | Duley (FR)
Longsnapper | Hall (JR) | L. Hansen (rs-SO) | Crawford (rs-FR)
Punt Return | Williams (JR) | M. Scott (SO) | Beatty (SO)
KO Return | Love (JR) | Laughery (rs-FR) | D. Edwards (rs-SO)
+ I think really the only story here is "looks solid pending a bunch of NFL decisions." Which, honestly, is a great problem to have and speaks some very encouraging words about what the next nine games might look like. We didn't have a single player drafted in the 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2020 NFL drafts (before two in 2021 and three in 2022) and now I'm about to make a list of players with remaining eligibility who will be making a draft decision after the season:
- Chase Brown
- Isaiah Williams
- Keith Randolph
- Johnny Newton
- Devon Witherspoon
(And those are just the underclassmen. I think Quan, Syd, and Palcho are all seniors with a chance of being drafted.)
No, I don't expect those five players to all leave, but if some of them do, well, I am of the opinion that the dropoff is steep at their positions. Maybe that's where the staff would turn to the transfer portal, but, well, I think you get the point here. So much of the transition from 2022 to 2023 will hinge on those five draft decisions.
+ The defense was going along swimmingly until we got to the safeties, right? As I mentioned yesterday, Brian Fremeau's formula currently has the Illini defense 14th nationally. And of the first nine names I listed as defensive starters for 2023, eight are current starters. The only player lost is Calvin Avery.
But then we get to Star + SS + FS and we have to find a new starter for all three. Matt Bailey feels like a lock for one of the spots. And for the other two I'm going with two players currently on the roster: Hawaii transfer Solo Turner at strong safety and currently-playing-cornerback Tyson Rooks at Star.
So maybe the 2023 defense should be framed this way: What will the Law Firm + Spoon decide? And can we find three safeties?
One other thing to note about the safeties: of the nine players I listed there, eight were recruited by Bret Bielema in the last 18 months. Translation: we are very experienced at safety this year and extremely green next year.
+ Positions where I think transfers will be brought in to compete for starting spots:
- Safety (duh)
- Defensive End/OLB (especially if some of those guys leave early)
- Corner if Spoon leaves early
WR they seem confident in who they have, OL they seem to like the players they're developing, RB still looks deep if Brown leaves (4-star Kaden Feagin arrives in January), and linebacker feels set with everyone but Darkangelo returning. So I think they'll look for a quarterback to compete with Sitkowski/Leary/Michaux/Swanson, some exterior (and maybe even interior) DL guys, and a safety or two to come in and compete for the vacated starting spots.
+ True freshmen who might come in and compete for Bailey/Beatty/Jacas-like immediate playing time:
- Feagin at running back
- Wilcher/Tobe/Clarke in the secondary
- Maybe TJ McMillen entering the center sweepstakes earlier rather than later?
Of those, the best place to find a Bailey-like freshman surprise is at Bailey's position: safety. I'm saying the word "safety" a lot. You should pay attention to that.
+ I think that covers most of it. The one big takeaway: Chase Brown, Isaiah Williams, Johnny Newton, Keith Randolph, and Devon Witherspoon have provided a big spark this season, and I'm now thinking my 4-8 prediction will be way off (in a good way). None of those players are seniors (Brown and Spoon could use their Covid years, and IW, Newton, and Randolph are all redshirt sophomores), but all might test the waters, so a lot of next season depends on those five decisions.
Hey fellas, it's me, Robert. Want to come back and maybe make a run at the West? You do? Awesome. Thanks.
That was easy.