With five commitments over the past six weeks, it's time to step back and look at what we perceive as the Illini football recruiting board.
Let's take a look at what Illinois has in the Class of 2017, what they still want and who could fill those holes. The Illini will sign a full class of 25. They are allowed to oversign by three, and early enrollees can back-count to the Class of 2016 (which has an open spot or two).
Scholarship spots: 1-2
Commit: Cam Thomas
Following Eli Peters' decision to transfer to Toledo, the Illini currently have four scholarship quarterbacks in 2017 for what will be an open quarterback battle: Chayce Crouch, Jimmy Fitzgerald, Jeff George Jr. and Thomas. I foresee a Fitzgerald vs. George battle, but that's a discussion for another time. The Illini have their 2017 quarterback and are really happy with Thomas, who fits the dual-threat quarterback mold offensive coordinator Garrick McGee wants. They're now focused on adding their 2018 quarterback. But it wouldn't be a shock if they keep their eyes open for a junior-college or grad-transfer quarterback who can add depth for next season.
Scholarship spots: 2
Commit: Mike Epstein
This is one of the biggest needs in 2017. Ke'Shawn Vaughn will be a junior in 2017 with a lot of tread on his tires (those guys look to jump to the pros as quickly as possible). Due to Dre Brown's injury issues, there doesn't seem to be a workhorse back behind Vaughn. Reggie Corbin is quick but small. Tre Nation is stout but slow. The Illini need more explosive, versatile backs. Epstein's commitment appears tenuous, but Illinois still has a real chance to hold onto him and they continue to recruit him. Florida RB Maleek Williams was the Illini's biggest target and he named the Illini his No. 1 last week. But he surprisingly committed to Arkansas during a visit. The Illini need a RB like him: big, strong and fast. Chase Hayden is a special back, but it'll be tough to keep him away from the SEC. Look out for a trio of Alabama backs: Alex Thomason, Jamal Hourel and Terence Dunlap,
Scholarship spots: 3-4
Commit: Ricky Smalling
Receiver has quickly gone from a position of strength to a position full of question marks. The Illini lose three seniors next year, so depth is an issue. By 2018, Malik Turner will be gone and Mike Dudek could be as well. Smalling is a great start. He doesn't have elite size or speed, but he plays bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame, has great hands and great technique and is an ultimate competitor. The Illini want pro-style receivers on the perimeter but they also want a speedy playmaker in the slot. The Illini have spread a wide net for receivers but seem most entrenched with Carmoni Green. They also recently offered Texas receiver Cartrell Thomas, who shined at their Dallas satellite camp. Commit Kendall Smith has the versatility to play receiver based on team need. Receivers are easier to find than most positions, so this position isn't much of a worry. Illinois could look at some of the better JUCO prospects as well.
Scholarship spots: 1
This was a good year to need a tight end in the state with three no-doubt power-five tight end prospects. Unfortunately, the staff arrived a little late to be a player for Cole Kmet (Notre Dame) and Jake Marwede (Duke). Illinois pushed for Logan Christopherson, but he fell hard for Mizzou. McGee wants versatile tight ends like former Illini Jon Davis, and he employs a "superback" like former Illini Jay Prosch or former Northwestern superback Dan Vitale. The previous staff brought in a strong tight end class in 2016. Andrew Trainer is a big, run-blocking red-zone target, while Zarrian Holcombe is an athletic receiver with room to grow as a blocker. So the Illini can still be picky at the position, and it appears they are. The staff hasn't made many offers to tight ends, except for Arizona product Jared Poplawski,
Scholarship spots: 4
Commit: Vederian Lowe
Lowe gives the Illini more of what it needs: Big Ten size, strength with a bit of quickness. Redshirt freshmen Gabe Megginson and Adam Solomon also look like no-doubt eventual Big Ten starters. The Illini need more. Indiana product Bryce Bailey is high on the Illini priority list and looks like a really good pass-protecting prospect to complement Lowe. The Illini would love California top-300 prospect Alijah Vera-Tucker or massive in-state OT Dalton Wagner, but each looks like a longshot. On the interior, St. Louis Trinity Catholic guard Larry Boyd is atop the priority list, but Missouri and Oklahoma State loom large in that recruitment. Also watch out for Texan William Sherman, who has taken a liking to the Illini.
Scholarship spots: 4-5
If there were a priority list of needs in the Class of 2017, defensive line would be No. 1 with a bullet. The Illini lose all four starters from a strong 2016 group and lose one of the top rotation players as well. Jamal Milan looks like a future pro if he is healthy, and Tito Odenigbo looks like a solid rotation player. But the Illini have major questions on its depth chart, especially at defensive end. They need disruptors up front, especially on the edge. Huntley's Olalere Oladipo is the priority. He has the size and burst to be a strong overall defensive end. Defensive line coach Mike Phair prioritizes burst more than anything, and the Illini seem to be focusing on athletes from Florida (Lashawn Paulino-Bell) and Texas (Josh Rogers) to get it. The staff is intrigued by Barrington's Jackson Perkins, who camped with the Illini this month, but he is more of a run stuffer than pass rusher at this point. The Illini also are watching Deerfield's Joshua Maize, who has an Indiana offer. On the interior, Illinois wants one-gap disruptors. Crete-Monee's John Mitchell fits the bill and loves the Illini. Fellow in-stater Caylon May is another one to watch, but he didn't camp with Illinois this month. Illinois also recently offered Juan Harris after he surprisingly attended their Chicago satellite camp. The massive defensive tackle (who has surprising quickness) decommitted from Iowa on Wednesday.
Scholarship spots: 2-3
Commits: Marc Mondesir
Mondesir shows us what Lovie wants in linebacker: speed and athleticism. Good, because the Illini have lacked both in their defensive back seven for the past few seasons -- and it showed. Marist linebacker Micah Awodiran is, of course, the priority. He told EdgyTim.com that his top four includes Illinois, Duke, Vanderbilt and Yale. Yes, academics matter. The Illinois coaches and commits have built a great relationship with Awodiran, who also has a sister who attends Illinois. The Illini have a great mix of academics, Big Ten football and proximity to sell. Now, they need to close. Others to watch include a trio of Florida natives: DeCalon Brooks (son of Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks), Shanon Reid and Diego Fagot.
Scholarship spots: 4
Commits: Kendall Smith
We list Smith here for now. He's a bit skinny for a defender right now but definitely has the athleticism and length to translate -- and those are two traits the Illini are pining for more of in the secondary. The Illini this week made a great offer to Dallas-area sleeper Josh Newman, who has size, speed and physicality. D.J. Green is another Texan to watch after a strong performance at the Dallas satellite camp. The Illini and Juawan Treadwell have seemed like a match for a while, but that recruitment has been quiet lately. Treadwell didn't attend any Illini camp this month even though Mitchell (his HS teammate) showed up to two. The Illini also have fallen for St. Louis athlete Tony Adams after his performance at the St. Louis satellite camp. They were the first power-five team to offer, though Mizzou quickly responded with an offer of their own. The Illini have some good prospects here.
Scholarship spots: 2
The Illini want a scholarship punter and a long snapper. They will hold a specialists camp on June 15 to get a closer look at some of their targets.