Jeremy Werner

Illini Football Trending Meter: Sept. 2016

Who's next to pop for Illini football? Illini Inquirer breaks down who's trending toward and away from Illinois in the latest edition of the Trending Meter.

August was a huge month for Illinois football recruiting as the Illini nabbed five commitments from legit power-five prospects. The Illini increased team speed with the additions of Antwan CollierTony Adams and Carmoni Green. They added much-needed beef in the trenches with Larry Boyd and Olalere Oladipo.

The hope was that the Illini could continue to boost their recruiting momentum with wins on the field. But in just eight days -- 20-plus point losses to both North Carolina and Western Michigan -- some of that Lovie buzz has diminished, at least among the fan base. Whether it has a big effect on recruiting remains to be seen, but the poor showings certainly don't help.

Of course, Smith's staff only recruited one player currently on this roster: grad transfer Hardy Nickerson. The Illini coaches won't have a semblance of the roster they want for at least another three seasons, and more likely four. Most understood this rebuild was a full tear down and would take a while, but the Illini know they still have to put together a more appealing product on the field in the meantime. Ron Zook was able to recruit well despite just two wins in each of his first two seasons. Smith's staff is off to a solid start in recruiting but will experience similar negative recruiting after a slow start on the field.

The Illini have filled 11 of 25 scholarships so far in the Class of 2017. Many of their targets will make decisions in the next few months. But expect their list of targets to grow soon. Illinois coaches were expected to gather this week to widen their recruiting focus and possibly start to move some of their B list targets to the A list. The coaches also will hit the road to further evaluate prep and JUCO prospects. For those reasons, expect next month's Trending Meter to have more new names.

For now, check out he latest buzz on Illini targets in the latest Illini Football TRENDING METER.

In the fold

Players who have committed to Illinois since last update

Off the board

Players who have committed elsewhere since last update

Trending Meter

Illinois loves Kansas commit Reggie Roberson, who has reciprocated interest. Illinois needs to do more to sway him from the Jayhawks, but if the Texas receiver visits, the recruitment would seem up for grabs. As everyone knows, Kansas football has been pretty terrible. Roberson is a favorite of Illini receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker due to his blazing speed and physicality in the slot. But Roberson is having a HUGE senior season and may earn even bigger interest.
UPDATE: Roberson has locked in an official visit with Illinois and sounds ready to flip. He and his mother want to get a good vibe from campus, but the Illini have a huge opportunity in early October to land their top slot receiver target.

Cincinnati Colerain offensive lineman Howard Watkins is down to three schools for an Oct. 29 decision: Illinois, Louisville and Cincinnati. He took an official visit to Champaign this month for the North Carolina game. Watkins told Illini Inquirer of the visit, his second to Illinois: "I loved it. I really did. I had a ball. Illinois has really set the bar high for me. I think Illinois has really opened up my eyes to a lot of things I want to see not only from them but from other universities now." Watkins has taken unofficial visits to Cincinnati and Louisville as well. Watkins is one of the top priorities on the Illini recruiting board. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman has the size, quick feet and physical mindset the Illini want in their offensive linemen, and Illinois envisions him eventually growing into a quickside tackle Adding him alongside commits Larry Boyd and Vederian Lowe would give Illinois a big boost in the trenches, which this seasonn has shown it sorely needs. This is an Illinois-Louisville battle. A few Illinois sources are feeling really, really confident in Watkins. Why would they be? Lovie Smith has really made an impression on Watkins and his parents. His dad was blown away  during a June unofficial visit, and his mom impressed by both the staff and the academic side of Illinois. What Illinois must overcome is that Louisville is the No. 3 team in the country right now with the very early Heisman favorite. The Cardinals are now the ACC favorite with a ton of buzz around them. Basically, Louisville is where Illinois wants to be in four or five years. Expect Watkins to take official visits to his other top schools before making his decision.
Palm Beach Lakes (Fla.) wideout D.J. Edwards didn't expect to be blown away on his official visit to Illinois, but he couldn't stop raving about the trip during a 30-minute conversation with Illini Inquirer following the visit. The electrifying 6-foot-2 wideout said the trip opened his eyes for he and his mother.  “They’re most definitely in my top," he told Illini Inquirer. "They were already in my top, but they moved up. They definitely are in a good spot. My mom likes it too. My mom actually loves it. If my mama likes it, they good then." Rather than tell him he'd be their go-to guy from the start, Illinois kept it real with Edwards during the visit, telling him he'd be part of a game-changing receiver class along with Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green -- and Edwards liked it. Edwards, whose goal is to make the NFL, is drawn to the NFL experience of the Illini coaching staff.  His mother loves the academics and the quiet Midwestern feel of campus. Edwards plans official visits to Indiana, Penn State and Iowa State, but the Illini are at least the leaders in the clubhouse at this point.
With so few available, realistic defensive line targets, Illinois likely will need to find some sleeper defensive linemen in this class to get to their desired DL allotment in this class (four to five). The Illini were the first power-five to jump on board with an offer to California defensive tackle Boe Tufele. With offers from the likes of Northern Colorado, North Carolina Central, Coastal Carolina and Dixie State, Tufele hasn't delved too much into recruiting yet. But he likely will take a visit to Illinois this fall. Given his options, it's no secret that Illinois is in a great spot to land a sleeper prospect they've identified. "I think that out of all the schools that have offered me, this (Illinois) would be my best choice," Tufele told Illini Inquirer. "I think it’s the biggest one I got so far. If I were to chose, I would choose Illinois." Expect Tufele to take an official visit to the Illini later this fall.

Illinois has started to up its interest in Rich Central (Ill.) defensive tackle Caylon May but hasn't yet made the push the previous staff had made. Despite his combination of size and athleticism and his pretty good film, May has no power-five offers. He took an unofficial visit for the UNC game. Illinois may go watch him play this weekend, and he could be one of the players who goes from the B list to the priority list soon. "They want to see my senior season, and they said they'll go from there," May told Illini Inquirer. "But they really like me, and they like that I play physical and run hard." The Illini need a lot of help up front and there are very few available Midwestern defensive linemen with intriguing size and athleticism like May. Illini Inquirer would have offered by now. If the Illini pull the trigger, May could make a quick decision. "It would mean a lot," May said. "It'd give me another hard decision to make."

The first 2018 prospect to make the Trending Meter, Chicago Solorio quarterback Quincy Patterson recently visited the Illini campus for an unofficial visit. Patterson has a big arm, big body and is a tough, effective runner -- so naturally he gets compared to Juice Williams. The Illini are selling him with that too, that he can help revive Illinois football like Williams did for a brief moment in the late 2000s. “It was wonderful,” Patterson told Illini Inquirer. “I have always liked the school. I’ve been on a visit there before, but this one felt different for some reason. I don’t know if it was atmosphere, but they moved way up my list.” Patterson has visited Penn State and Northwestern recently. A source close to Patterson said Illinois is a major player and one of the favorites for Patterson's parents. Penn State and Indiana are the top competition. The source also said Patterson wants to decide "by the end of his junior year" of school. Illinois leads and wants to lock him up ASAP.

Another top in-state 2018 target, Chicago Mt. Carmel lineman Verdis Brown is a litmus test recruit for Illinois. The top-200 lineman already looks like a future NFL prospect and could play either side of the trenches, though Illinois likes him most as a defensive lineman. The Illini were the first to offer Brown and have done a heck of a job with him. He visited campus again this month. This is shaping up to be a Big Ten battle with Ohio State and Illinois currently atop his list and Michigan State now making a push too. Illinois is selling him on being a game-changer in a game-changing Class of 2018, and it at least appears to be resonating. "There's a lot that draws me about that," Brown told Illini Inquirer. "To know I have a chance to build a legacy here means a lot. It's something I think about a lot."

Miami (Fla.) Central defensive end Owen Carney spent three days on the Illini campus last week, and the Illini have come out of the visit as a major player -- if not the leader -- for Carney. Illinois is near the top of his list because they have prioritized him, would take him as an early enrollee and offer him immediate playing time. Miami is out of the mix after taking another defensive end. Florida State is the top competition, and the leader -- if the offer is legit. The Illini continue to make their push, selling that he's been their Plan A all along. Still, Florida State has a prestige and a pull for the Florida native that Illinois probably can't duplicate. Carney, who is teammates with Illini commit Carmoni Green, said he wants to wait until December to announce his decision. It might not be a bad thing for the Illini if he takes some time to think about it -- or if Florida State takes another defensive end. "I think I can really come in right away (at Illinois) and make an impact," Carney told Illini Inquirer. "I'm going to be a mid-year (enrollee), so I'm going to try to make a run for a starting job right away. And I feel like the scheme fits me. I can really be successful in their defense." 
UPDATE: Carney told that Florida State is his leader. The Seminoles have been his leader for a while, the question is whether FSU truly will make a push for Carney. If they do, they'll get him. But the Illini are still selling Carney as their top priority (not a B-list target) and are selling loads of immediate playing time.

Illinois is trying to start a mini pipeline to California, and outside of Tufele, they may sit best with Sacramento safety Trajon Cotton. The top-45 safety plans an official visit to Illinois next month. Still, the Illini have a lot of ground to make up. Cotton raved about his recent official visit to Nebraska and also has Oregon, Arizona State and Colorado in his top-five. For now, the Illini are still in the fight.

Illinois hasn't prioritized many junior-college prospects yet. This staff is more focused on the long-term and developing prospects who will make a four-year impact. But they are still open to adding JUCO players who can make a high impact in the short term and allow some of those prep prospects some maturation time. Arizona Western cornerback Keisean Nixon, who has two years of eligibility left, tops their JUCO wish list, but they aren't the only program with those thoughts. Nixon already has visited Colorado State and Iowa State and has locked in a visit to Missouri. Illinois hopes to get him on campus later this fall.

Ohio running back Ra'Von Bonner has unofficially visited Illinois for both the Week 1 and Week 2 games. The Illini are intrigued by the 6-foot, 200-pound back who brings an intriguing mix of solid size and solid speed that could make him more of a workhorse back. The Illini offered a scholarship but haven't pushed yet. They want Bonner to come for an official visit later this season, probably when they'll have a clearer idea of their realistic options at running back. If the Illini offer, Bonner seemingly would be theirs to lose. Stay tuned. If the Illini want to push for a commitment, this arrow goes way up.

Illinois hosted big Indiana offensive lineman Zenden Dellinger for an unofficial visit last weekend. It's safe to say that Illinois is one of his top options, if not the  top option. Dellinger not only likes the draw of the Big Ten and Lovie Smith's coaching staff, but he's highly interested in the Illini's pre-veterinary program. The question is how interested Illinois is in him. The previous staff offered but the new staff hasn't given Dellinger the go ahead that the offer is committable at this point. “I feel I’m pretty high on their list," Dellinger said. "They’re definitely high on my list. I guess we’ll see in the next month or two. They didn’t really give me a real timeline. I told them I’m looking to make a decision in mid- to late-October, and they said that’s completely fair.” Illinois has gone back and forth on Dellinger. He has unteachable size but is a bit raw as a prospect. With two offensive line spots available in this calls, the Illini's interest in Dellinger may depend on how confident they are in landing Mixon and/or Watkins. If the Illini offer, this arrow turns way up.

Illinois is in the top-five for Alabama offensive lineman Preston Mixon, along with Cincinnati, Nevada, Memphis and Florida Atlantic. As the only power-five program on that list, Illinois wants to get Mixon in for a fall visit. While he plays offensive tackle in high school, Illinois envisions him as a physical center who can help the Illini get a better push on the interior. Illinois would seem to be in a great position. But Mixon made it clear that conference isn't one of the most significant factor in his decision. "Big Ten, SEC and all that stuff, that really doesn't matter," Mixon told Illini Inquirer. "I just want to go somewhere and play and get my education. Basically, I want to play in the NFL. But as long as I do what I want to do at the next level, the NFL is going to come to me."

Illinois needs some impact edge rushers and defensive line coach Mike Phair is trying to find some success recruiting his home state of Arizona. He has focused some recent attention on 6-foot-5, 215-pound top-60 defensive end Odua Isibor. Illinois is hoping to get him on campus this fall. But this relationship is pretty new, and Isibor has offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado and USC. Can the Illini pull him away from the Pac-12?  That seems tough, but a visit would be a good sign.

Crete-Monee defensive tackle John Mitchell took in two Illini satellite camps in June on back-to-back days just to hang out and see the Illini staff, so he obviously has interest. But Mitchell's recruitment has stalled since then. "I'm keeping my options open and looking at all the schools," he told Illini Inquirer this month.  "I'm wanting to get to any that I can get to." Right now, the Illini are one of just two power-five offers along with Syracuse. But Mitchell has passed up some opportunities to visit Illinois. He's a nice prospect and Illinois needs defensive linemen. But the lack of enthusiasm lately mixed with some academic issues seemed to have cooled a relationship that during the summer looked like it could get hot and heavy.

Texas safety Josh Newman visited Illinois last month and told Illini Inquirer then, "It's my number one now, really." Newman definitely is an intriguing athlete and fits Illinois' mold to increase team speed. Illinois offered Newman after he shined at the Illini's satellite camp in Dallas in June, including a 4.54-second 40-yard dash. Newman's only other offer is Texas State, but playing on a really talented team at Cedar Hill, he will play out this season and see what other opportunities could come up.

Illinois was hoping this arrow would be pointed up. Top-50 overall prospect Jeff Thomas was scheduled to take an unofficial visit to Illinois for the North Carolina game. It would have been his second trip to Champaign in a month and suggested that Illinois is a serious consideration for the electrifying receiver. But Mother nature intervened with rain postponing his Friday game to Saturday, keeping him away from C-U. Thomas told that he is down to two options: Missouri and Alabama. There is a lot of local pressure on Thomas to go to Mizzou, and Alabama is Alabama. But Illinois has a few people in their corner in the St. Louis area who will try to help get him back to campus for another visit. Also, Thomas has serious academic questions, so the odds seem low for Illinois. But for this kind of special talent with elite speed and quickness, Illinois will keep making a huge push.

Florida commit Elijah Blades, a four-star cornerback, is keeping his recruitment open. He recently visited Utah and also has official visits scheduled to  Washington State (Oct. 1), followed by the Florida Gators (Oct. 8), Nebraska (Nov. 12) and Illinois (Nov. 19). That's some stiff competition, but you never know what can happen on a visit.

Crete-Monee defensive back Juawan Treadwell has kept a laissez-faire approach to recruiting.  "I'm just waiting on recruiting to come to me right now," Treadwell told Illini Inquirer.  "I'm going to take visits, though.  I want to do those real soon since college games started." But that approach may be to his own detriment. In April, Treadwell visited Illinois on the sameday that Ricky Smalling and Kendall Smith committed to Illinois. Word was that Treadwell was close to popping for Illinois too. So the Illini have invited him for several other visits, including last months' barbecue, but Treadwell hasn't made the effort to come back to campus. Illinois prioritized Treadwell early, but they won't hold a spot for him forever. Treadwell has a huge opportunity in front of him, but it's a bit of an exploding offer. Illinois recently received commitments from Antwan Collier and Tony Adams. There's only about one defensive back spot left in the class and other interested targets. Treadwell appears to be waiting on a Miinnesota offer. Why? The Gophers have produced several NFL defensive backs recently. But the bigger factor is that his big brother, LaQuon Treadwell, plays for the Minnesota Vikings. Treadwell, whose only power-five offer is Illinois, currently is a B list option for Minnesota,

Silsbee (Texas) running back Calvin Tyler visited Illinois during the summer and quickly received an offer. He then tweeted out last month that he was going to announce his decision only to ditch those plans hours laster. Word is that Tyler wanted to commit to Illinois but that Illinois wasn't ready to accept that commitment. Tyler isn't a workhorse back due to his lack of size, but he has phenomenal speed and would be a dangerous weapon to add to the arsenal. He has quick burst, change of direction and top-end speed. Illinois just seems to want more of a workhorse back but will keep its eyes on Tyler.
Illinois is the only offer for Miami Central running back Kywan Smith. He visited the Illini campus for three days last weekend. Do the math and it seems to add up to an Illini commitment soon, right? If it were solely Smith's decision, he would've committed by now. But he first has some academic hurdles to jump over. He also isn't the No. 1 running back on the Illini's board. Of course, if two of his Miami Central teammates committed, the Illini would probably gladly take Smith too.

Four-star athlete and former Kentucky commit Russ Yeast attended the Illini barbecue in Julyand stayed a few hours longer than expected. But Illinois' chances are so slim here. Yeast recently took an official visit to Iowa and an unofficial visit to Louisville, where he watched the Cardinals crush Florida State. He plans official visits to Louisville (yes, a return trip) and Ole Miss. Northwestern and Illinois are still on his announced list, but neither seems to stand much of a chance.


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