Filling Illini needs with in-state prospects

The state of Illinois' Class of 2017 talent pool is drying up quickly for a new Illini staff that is just three months into the recruiting cycle. But there still are plenty of power-five prospects to fill some of the Illini's biggest gaps. Here are some in-state prospects who can fill some of the Illini's biggest needs.

Dual-threat quarterback (filled)

Cam Thomas received his first coaching from Illini offensive coordinator Garrick McGee on Saturday at the Lincoln-Way East satellite camp. Thomas again showed his athleticism and speed, running two 4.5 40-yard dashes -- the best at the camp. Unlike at The Opening in Chicago last month, Thomas struggled a little bit in passing drills. He can spin the ball really well and showed great touch on deep throws, but he must continue to increase his arm strength, hone his mechanics and improve his accuracy. Still, Thomas has all the tools. He just needs some coaching to learn how to use them effectively. Don't expect Thomas to come in and make an immediate impact. But with much more time with McGee, he has the potential to eventually make a big impact.

Workhorse running back

Not available.

It's a very down year for running backs in the state. The only power-five prospect so far is Iowa commit Ivory Kelly-Martin. Mt. Carmel's Michael Kennedy is an intriguing prospect and just received an offer from Northern Illinois after camping with the Illini at Lincoln-Way East, so he could be one to watch. But the Illini have focused elsewhere, like Florida (Maleek Williams and Mike Epstein), Tennessee (Chase Hayden) and Alabama (Alex ThomasonJamal Hourel and Terence Dunlap).

Go-to wide receiver (filled)

Brother Rice receiver Ricky Smalling isn't the biggest (6-foot-1) nor the fastest (4.6 to 4.7 in the 40), but there weren't many receivers better than him at The Opening, which was overflowing with talent, last month. Smalling is simply a baller. His strength and athleticism allow him to play much bigger than his height. He also has very soft hands but what stands out most is his ability to get open (really refined technique) and nasty competitive streak. While the perfect pro prospect would have slightly better measureables, Illinois looks like it landed a No. 1 college wideout.

Versatile tight end

It's a good year to find a tight end in the state. But the top three prospects are already off the board with Jake Marwede committed to Duke, Cole Kmet committed to Notre Dame and Logan Christopherson committed to Missouri. All three were no-doubt power-five prospects.

The best left on the board is Griffin Hammer.  The St. Charles North tight end camped with the Illini at Barrington on Saturday. He's a solid prospect with solid size and athleticism. His knock is his height (6-foot-3) since most power-five programs are looking for taller redzone targets and in-line blockers. But Hammer could fit well in a superback/H-Back role, like current Illini Caleb Reams.

Barrington's Josh Babicz is another intriguing prospect. He has a really good frame (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and ran pretty well at the Illini satellite camp at his high school on Saturday.


The Illini must get bigger and more physical on the offensive line. There are a few in-state prospects who could fill out those gaps.

Dalton Wagner is a monster. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Richmond-Burton offensive tackle's frame is so big that he must work to stay low but does a pretty good job of it. There's some developing to do, but there aren't many players who look like this. So it's no surprise that this has turned into a bit of a national recruitment that could be tough for the Illini to win.

This isn't an elite year for offensive linemen in state. Michigan State commit  Kevin Jarvis, No. 237 in the Scout300, is the highest ranked. But if Vederian Lowe puts together a few more performances like he did at the Illini satellite camp at Barrington on Saturday, he could at least be in the discussion for best OL in the state's senior class. Lowe "trimmed down" to 334 pounds, allowing him to move around more fluidly. He has long arms (85-inch wingspan) and a nasty, powerful punch that can devastate opponents. He should be an Illini priority and told on Saturday of Illinois, "That's where my heart's at."

Potent pass rusher

Olalere Oladipo is one of the top priority's on the Illini's recruiting board. He has size, burst and versatility -- which is why he's also received offers from the likes of Michigan State, Penn State and Missouri. He already has visited the Illini multiple times this spring and has a good relationship with some of the other in-state recruits. Academics are important to him as well, and the Illini are selling the UI's academic prestige, of which he is familiar since his sister attends Illinois. Oladipo plans a summer decision, and the Illini are on the short list, along with Indiana, MSU and PSU. Now, it's time to close.

Joshua Maize recently received an offer from Indiana, his first power-five offer. He also camped with the Illini on Saturday at Barrington and hoped to receive an offer from Illinois, his "dream school." That didn't come. Illinois is intrigued by Maize, who has a nice burst off the line of scrimmage. But Maize is still developing as a defensive end after playing linebacker last season. He doesn't have a huge frame (6-foot-2) but looks like he can put on more good weight. Maize seems like a tough call for Illinois, but there is a need for a pass rusher. It'd be nice to see him in pads at the Big man camp this weekend. But Maize wants to make a decision real soon, and the Hoosiers top his list.

Run stuffer

Barrington defensive end Jackson Perkins certainly looks the part. He's long, lean and athletic -- he's a very good basketball player, as well -- and looks like he has the frame to carry a lot more weight. Perkins isn't the fastest (he ran a 4.99 40) but he has enough burst off the line. He projects well as a strongside defensive end -- though if he bulks up, he has the potential to slide inside and offer some versatility. He needs to keep progressing his pass-rush skills and must continue to add strength, evidenced by his struggles one-on-one against Lowe. He holds an Illinois offer and also has interest from Minnesota, Michigan and Notre Dame. While he probably needs time to develop, Perkins gives his college team a lot to work with.

Disruptive defensive tackle

Crete-Monee defensive tackle John Mitchell showed up to two of the Illini's three satellite camps last weekend, which would appear a great sign for the Illini. Mitchell has a nice mix of size and burst and could fit well as a three-technique in the Illini's scheme. He's also teammates with Juwuan Treadwell, who has a close relationship with the Illini staff as well. There aren't many power-five defensive tackles in the state each year. The Illini would do well to keep this one at home. Mitchell told on Friday that he thinks Illinois is "really on the come up."

Playmaking linebacker

Marist linebacker Micah Awodiran hung out at the Lincoln-Way East camp on Saturday and spent most of the time talking with Smalling, an Illini commit. Like Oladipo, Awodiran is one of the top priorities currently on the Illini board. He's an athletic, fluid defender who would fit really well as the weakside linebacker in Lovie Smith's defense (think Lance Briggs' role). Awodiran also holds offers from Mizzou, Indiana, Iowa State, Syracuse and Maryland, among others, and a recent Duke offer is intriguing for someone who prioritizes athletics. Illinois has developed a great relationship with Awodiran. For a while, he's planned a summer decision so the Illini are hoping to close this out soon. But Awodiran also has said that he doesn't want to rush a decision and wants to weigh all his options.

Defensive back

The Illini staff has prioritized Crete-Monee defensive back Juawan Treadwell since they took over in March and have developed a great relationship. The Illini remain the lone power-five offer for the state's top-ranked safety, who should probably have more attention. The Illini are the leader here but would like to close soon.

While much of the focus at the Barrington camp was on the defensive linemen, Western Michigan commit Marcus Hayes was proving that he probably should have more than just MAC attention. Hayes really impressed the Illini with his coverage skills and it wouldn't be a surprise if Illinois greatly picked up its interest soon -- something that would undoubtedly intrigue Hayes.

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