Fast Five: Top Incoming Defensive Players

The list of top incoming defensive players from the 2014 signing class.

1. Jihad Ward - The Illini had to hold off a late charge by West Virginia to keep this 6-7, 285-pound defensive linemen. That's what you want to hear, that your recruits are coveted, even if it is stressful up until the LOI is faxed. The Illini need Ward to come in and push to start immediately. The defensive line has been the weakest line of a weak overall unit for two seasons, so top-end talent and depth will be enhanced by Ward's massive presence.

2. Carroll Phillips - Like Ward, Phillips is a junior college player entering a position that is short on talent and depth. Houston Bates hitting the road left only two viable options at the Leo position in spring. Phillips, by default, stands a good chance of seeing the field. It would help if he can push for a starting job. Competition is crucial.

3. Joe Fotu - Yet another junior college prospect the Illini added for instant impact and depth, Fotu enrolled early and took part in spring drills. That's a clear advantage over the previous two guys mentioned, and Fotu used that time to win over the locker room and impress the coaches. We've heard it before — last season JUCO early enrollee Abe Cajuste was supposed to enhance the defensive line. Due to injuries, position changes and perhaps other unknown reasons, Cajuste never moved the needle. Fotu needs to be a name you know next fall.

4. Henry McGrew - Sleeper alert! McGrew flew under the radar and chose to leave the state of Kansas after the Illini committed to him before in-state programs did. McGrew wasn't rated highly, but his tape is good and he comes from a winning program.

5. Austin Roberts - A tackling machine before an ACL injury ended his high school career, Roberts was said to be in line for an offer from Wisconsin just as he committed to Illinois. There are plenty of red flags — can he overcome the knee injury? Just how good is he? Those questions will be answered over the next few seasons. If you're looking for a potential long term investment that could pay off, Roberts might be your guy. There's no guarantee, but Roberts has the chance to pay off as an upperclassmen.


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