The argument could be made that no Illinois positional group was hit as hard last year by injury as the running back corps. Josh Ferguson and Ke'Shawn Vaughn were only both healthy for about half of the Illini's games, and the Minnesota depth chart was two scholarship backs (Ferguson and Foster) backed up by walk-on Cam Tucker.
Illinois currently holds commitments from two running backs, however with the transfer of Kendrick Foster and graduation of Josh Ferguson, the tailback position will be both recovering and reloading this offseason. A healthy Dre Brown (provided he doesn't move to safety) and Reggie Corbin should help, but Illinois will need to fortify the stable of running backs in the 2016 class.
The first running back commit, who made a big statement at the time with his pledge, is 4-star O'Fallon (IL) RB Kentrail Moran.
Moran isn't a home-run hitter, but more of an every-down back who gets tough yards and can tote the rock 25-30 times per game. He has a quick jump cut ability and great vision to find the hole. He's compact but powerful and is able to flip his hips to create change in direction while keeping his shoulders squared up when running downfield.
Toward the end of the season, talk began to surface of Moran looking around at other schools, most notably Syracuse, and some have suggested that Moran may have some hurdles to clear with Illinois admissions, however he has since affirmed his commitment to the Illini and also denied any academic issues. Moran, for all intensive purposes, is firmly committed to the Illini.
In addition to Moran, Illinois also got a later commitment from Delray Beach (FL) American Heritage back Devin Singletary.
Singletary is more comparable to Josh Ferguson, so it makes sense why Illinois wanted to take another back in this class to fill in the void in the RB pass catching game that Ferguson covered. Singletary isn't a burner as far as speed goes, but he has great lateral quickness and good vision on the perimeter when it comes to knowing when to hit the hole and which hole to hit.
He's tough to bring down due to his compact but powerful build, and can often break arm tackles by keeping his feet moving. Nicknamed "Motor," Singletary isn't afraid to square up with linebackers and safeties and try to run them over. It's also worth noting that Singletary's competition in high school weren't exactly a bunch of cupcakes, either.
On The Radar:
Even if both Moran and Singletary end up at Illinois, the Illini may still add another running back who has the versatility to also play linebacker. One of the prime targets for that role is Glen Ellyn (IL) Glenbard West RB, 7A state champion, and Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year Sam Brodner.
Brodner is just a "football player" in the traditional sense of the word. He played far more heavily on offense than on defense during his high school career, rushing for over 2,500 yards his senior year, but did spend time at linebacker and safety during spring/summer 7-on-7 action with Midwest BOOM, recording several interceptions.
He's a physical downhill runner with deceptive speed and great football IQ. The former Vanderbilt commit is strong academically and comes from one of the most perenially prominent Illinois high school programs in the state. Illinois has long struggled to get into Glenbard West, however, this could be their chance to snag a guy who makes sense to be at Illinois, and by most accounts, is very interested in being at Illinois.
If Brodner is not the guy, then Leeds (AL) HS running back Tre Nation is likely option 1B at this point. Nation is similar to Brodner in that he's a bigger back who runs with power, he's a state champion, and he has the versatility to play linebacker.
Nation lacks the burst that some of the other guys have, but does possess the speed to maintain separation from the defense once he gets to the second level. And once he gets rumbling, he is tough to stop. One concern is his tendency to not keep his body square to the line of scrimmage when stretching plays to the outside, which at the next level could result in a lot of rushes for no gain as linebackers would be more athletic and capable of chasing him down.
Nation ran for over 1,800 yards and tallied 34 touchdowns this past season. His productivity is evidence that he's a good back. Nation and Brodner share similar body types, and both have spent some time, albeit minimal this year, on defense.