Quarterback & Running Back:
For Illinois, the centerpiece of the recruiting class is Bolingbrook QB Aaron Bailey. The 6'2" 225 pound quarterback is big, strong, fast, and has excellent leadership skills. And while he does have a big arm, it hasn't been frequently tested, especially this past year with limited receiving threats at Bolingbrook. He enters an Illinois squad with two QB's with starting experience in Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole. Many want Bailey to play early, and while I do think he would be able to if required, he may be better off spending a year redshirting, learning a new offense under Bill Cubit, and competing for the starting spot once Scheelhaase graduates. But either way, Bailey was the spark plug for the rest of the class.
The rest of the backfield features a couple different styles of player. Miguel Hermosillo is a player who came from a small town just outside of Dekalb, IL and made a lot of noise this season, including a 300+ rushing yard game to start his senior campaign. He's a versatile back who could be taking handoffs equally as much as he could be catching passes out of the backfield or even lining up in the slot. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see him play next year, and I know he is preparing as if he will play. He compares in a lot of ways to current Illini Josh Ferguson.
On the other hand, Kendrick Foster is a thicker back. He's short, which may actually help him. He's compact and built thick below the waist, but also has great straight line speed for his size. He may take a little longer to develop into a Big Ten running back, but he does have a lot of the tools to run between the tackles and break some big runs when he gets to the second level.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
This is the position group that was one of the thinnest on the team. For the most part, Darius Millines, Ryan Lankford, and Spencer Harris are the only receivers with any substantial game experience. Rising sophomore Justin Hardee saw some action last year, but his playing time diminished as Big Ten play went on.
Illinois landed two true wide receivers in Florida's Dionte D.J. Taylor and Marchie Murdock of Texas. Both are 6' plus and are skilled route runners. Taylor played at nationally-ranked University School alongside highly-touted Jordan Cunningham. I think both have a chance to get in the rotation as freshmen with the greater emphasis on the vertical passing game.
Martize Barr had a long road to Illinois. High school, to college, to junior college, then back to college, all the while splitting time between receiver and defensive back, Barr brings playing experience at a bigtime JUCO program to Illinois and steps in at a big position of need at just the right time. His exact role as a receiver is yet to be seen, but if he can step up and be a leader with the receiving corps, he could be counted upon a lot in a hurry.
One other player who could end up making an impact early on for Illinois is Darius Mosely. Now, Mosely played both cornerback and receiver for O'Fallon, and in many cases he's listed as an "athlete." But as O'Fallon went into the IHSA playoffs, Mosely spent a majority of his plays on offense at receiver, and he made play after play. Then again, he was an excellent corner for Team USA this summer in Texas, recording a couple interceptions and fumble recoveries in just 3 games while splitting time with several other players. You see where I'm going with this (I think). Anyway, Mosely could very well end up on either side of the ball, but he could be one hell of a slot receiver, and given the need there, I see him ending up there.
Tyler White was a late-season addition as well. Having seen him in person, he is very well built, well put-together, has a great frame, and definitely looks the part. He, like Hermosillo, wasn't a highly-touted player when Illinois fans began to hear about him, but as versatile as he is and as athletic as he is, he could fit into the gameplan sooner rather than later at Illinois.
The offensive line this year was a lot like an old rock band trying to go back on tour. Whether it was injuries, sickness, or whatever, by mid-tour, the "band" only had half of the original members, and the songs just weren't the same. So the Illinois coaches knew they needed to recruit some new musicians.
But they needed guys who played a certain genre, zone blocking. It started with getting Jesse Chadwell out of Michigan. Chadwell will need to add weight, but he's very technically sound and has good footwork at 6'5" and long arms. Next, they went and got a guitar player to play bass instead. Christian DiLauro of Ohio started his high school career as a tight end, but he has a world of potential as an offensive tackle. Like Chadwell, adding good weight will be the mission, but after a redshirt year and some time at Illinois, he could be a staple on the offensive line.
Still not done, they went back into Ohio for Austin Schmidt at Olentangy High School near Columbus. Olentangy is a prominent program in the Columbus area, so why did it take teams so long to catch on to Schmidt? Well, Illinois coaches had been tracking him since their time at Toledo. Schmidt is like the solid drummer who gets overlooked because of the flashy frontman of the band (Josh Perry to OSU last year), but without him, a lot of the rhythm isn't there. Schmidt put on a good amount of weight this season, very little of it hindering his skills at all, and he could be one of the first of the OL to play.
But sometimes the band is missing that one guy who's been in the business for a while and knows the music industry. Illinois really dug deep into the JUCO ranks this year looking for players with experience, and one guy they came out with is offensive tackle Dallas Hinkhouse. Hinkhouse comes to Illinois from national champion JUCO program Iowa Western. Hinkhouse is touted for having great footwork, and in a zone blocking scheme, that's an essential skill. Fortunately, he's an early enrollee, so he'll have time to add weight by the time the season comes, but he may still need to wait a few games before he sees ample playing time.
Check back in soon for the look at the defensive side of the signing class.