2023 Three-Deep

Sep 14, 2022

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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)

My notes:

+ 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)
  • Quarterback
  • 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.


cmi2phx on September 14, 2022 @ 06:16 PM

I think I read on another board that DeVito has an extra year of eligibility remaining as well (who knows if he’d choose to use it, if true)

Markschnake1 on September 14, 2022 @ 06:56 PM

I don’t think he does, but I’ve been wrong before.

Devito was at Cuse from 2017-2021 with a RS year (so that’s 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 he burned 4 years of eligibility plus a RS year in 2017).

He then transferred to Illinois to play 2022–I think this is his COVID year.

Efremwinters84 on September 14, 2022 @ 07:56 PM

Agreed. We've been discussing elsewhere. Certainly does look like he has another year. I believe he played in only 3 games in 2021 for Syracuse. And in that last article/interview it was stated something like, "This may be DeVito's final year in college."

Robert on September 14, 2022 @ 08:46 PM

I just responded to someone on Twitter today who was asking if DeVito could get an extra year just like Palcho and Marchese. I'll just cut-and-paste my response from there (which I had to type out and screen cap):

Palcho played in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The 2020 season didn't count because of Covid so he entered 2021 as a 2-to-play-1 guy for a second time. He played that one and was done. The staff then appealed saying that he only played 4 games in 2020 (injured at Rutgers in the 4th game) so he should get one more year. The NCAA agreed.

Marchese played in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The 2020 season didn’t count because of Covid so he entered 2021 as a 2-to-play-1 guy for a second time. He played that one and was done. The staff then appealed saying he he only played in 4 games in 2020 (not sure if it was injury or if he just didn’t play in four of the eight games), arguing that he should get one more year. The NCAA agreed.

DeVito redshirted at Syracuse in 2017 and then played in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Technically, 2021 was his “1 to play 1” (final) season, but since 2020 didn’t count towards anyone’s eligibility (Covid waiver), he’s using a second “1 to play 1” season at Illinois this year. But then he’s out of eligibility.

Basically, everyone’s 5 year clock became a 6 year clock with the Covid year. 5 years to play 4 seasons became 6 years to play 5 seasons for everyone (with the 6th year needing to be a redshirt year - if you play 5 straight, you're done). DeVito’s redshirt was used in 2017, and Palcho & Marchese’s redshirts were retroactively applied to 2020, so all three players will see their 6-to-play-5 clock strike midnight after this season.

The only way DeVito could apply for a seventh year is the medical waiver. Daniel Imatorbhebhe played a 7th season at Kansas State last year. His clock had expired but he missed two full seasons with an injury. When you do that - two full seasons lost due to injury, not one season lost to injury and one season a regular old “he was a freshman and didn’t play so he redshirted” - you can appeal to get one extra year. Daniel Imatorbhebhe got a 6th year from the Covid waiver and a 7th year from a medical waiver (he missed two years due to injury at USC).

For DeVito to do that, he’d have to convince the NCAA that his redshirt year at Syracuse in 2017 wasn’t “I was just a freshman and didn’t play because Eric Dungey was the starter”, it was due to an injury. That would mean he missed 2017 AND 2020 due to injury (he was injured in their 4th game in 2020 and missed the rest of the season), and then he’d be eligible for a medical 7th year. But the NCAA would ask for medical documentation of that 2017 injury keeping him out a full season, and if there is none, he can’t get a waiver.

cmi2phx on September 14, 2022 @ 11:17 PM

Makes sense, thanks Robert

Efremwinters84 on September 15, 2022 @ 06:56 PM

Great explanation! I failed to catch the Year 1 redshirt.

Efremwinters84 on September 14, 2022 @ 08:15 PM

This is a rather positive view into the future, Robert!

And of those five theoretically making an NFL decision, I would argue that Williams (#1) has the most to gain from returning in 2023. I still think there's a lot of untapped potential there.

Eagle on September 14, 2022 @ 11:04 PM

Chase is obviously gone, but I'd love to see the other four come back for another season where they are talked about in the pre-season for their All-American potential. That ups the bidding war for their talent considerably. However, I'd rather that they all finish so well that it doesn't pay to come back.

Duce20 on September 15, 2022 @ 08:14 AM

I really don’t see Feagin as an RB at the next level. I think he could be a S or OLB in a 3/4. Watched him play a bit as my nephew was on his team.

Jacob on September 15, 2022 @ 10:12 AM

I think you need to add Pearl and Adams to your 5 looking at being drafted. I get the impression one or both will look to be drafted after this year. If both stay with one, I feel confident our offense will be solid regardless of the QB we have back there

JustListen on September 15, 2022 @ 11:24 AM

I figured someone would have asked about Luke Ford by now. The 90 Illini post about him suggested that he would be eligible in 2023. Maybe there was some news about his eligibility or football future plans that I missed?

MJC73 on September 16, 2022 @ 04:18 PM

Seems crazy that Williams and Beatty are just 1 year apart eligibility-wise in the depth chart.

lucasmeducas on September 18, 2022 @ 11:33 AM

I think Spoon is for sure gone unless something unforseen happens. Same with Chase. I agree with the poster above that your 5 to watch are probably Randolph, Newton, Williams, Adams & Pearl. I think the latter 3 come back, but we might have to replace the law firm which would be catastrophic for the defense when added to the losses in the secondary.

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