First, a scouting report on new Illini commit Ra'Von Bonner from Scout.com's Dave Berk, who has watched Bonner extensively over the last couple years.
"Ra’Von Bonner has been a back to watch grow since his sophomore year with back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons. However, he looks like he might have saved the best for his senior year having already rushed for 782 yards and 15 touchdowns. Over the past three years, the biggest thing that has changed about Bonner is his physical size. Currently Bonner is 205 pounds having added 20 pounds to his frame since his sophomore year. Not a speed back, Bonner does a great job of hitting the hole, keeping his balance and using a quick burst to get through the trash at the line of scrimmage. Has the size to withstand the rigors of Big Ten play and skill set to be a solid player at the college level."
Illinois devoured film of Bonner during the past month. They made the decision during the bye week to move him from the highly interested list to priority list. Bonner is having a big senior season. His vision, balance and toughness have always been his strength. But he's added a bunch of muscle, and while he may not have elite speed, Illinois is sold on his feet and burst. Simply, the Illini think he's a three-down Big Ten back. Illinois showed interest in speedy, small Texas running back Calvin Tyler, but wanted a more versatile weapon -- one who could get tough yards in between the tackles, run through and by some opponents and also catch passes out of the backfield. A few sources think Bonner has some similarities to Wisconsin's recent running backs. Bonner also is a good fit personality-wise. He's a high-character, hard-working young man with a deep commitment to his faith.
So what does Bonner's commitment mean for the Illini's efforts to flip Arkansas commits Maleek Williams and Chase Hayden? If either player has serious interest in Illinois, the Illini certainly would listen. Williams is the prototype for what Garrick McGee wants in his running backs. Big like Bonner with an extra gear. Hayden is simply a superb athlete and football player. Arkansas has four running back commits, so it seems unlikely that the Razorbacks sign the quartet. Illinois would likely make it work with either, but they are happy with their running back combo of Bonner and St. Thomas Aquinas stud Mike Epstein, who is having a huge comeback season after missing last year with a torn ACL.
The Illini's offensive recruiting class is looking pretty good. The Illini have a quarterback, Cam Thomas, with the tools (blazing speed, length, smarts and a solid arm) that McGee desires. They have two running backs with quickness and size. They have two receivers, Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green, who will likely make an immediate impact. They have two offensive linemen, Larry Boyd and Vederian Lowe, who give the Illini a big boost in size, physicality and nastiness. Illinois wants more speed at receiver and are locked on flipping Kansas commit Reggie Roberson, who will take an official visit next week for the Purdue game. They want two more prep offensive linemen with their eyes on Alabama's Preston Mixon and Cincinnati's Howard Watkins (landing Bonner certainly doesn't hurt with Watkins). They don't have much going right now at tight end but are scouring the country for a versatile weapon at the position. The Illini also are considering adding another prep quarterback (that's on top of a possible grad or JUCO transfer) and would like to add a junior college offensive lineman.
But the defense? Illinois has added some speed and athleticism to that side of the ball. But desperately need to add size, physicality and burst up front. The Illini want to add one more athletic (preferably bigger) linebacker and are focused on Arizona commit Tony Fields, Kyle Bolden and Amaud Willis-Dalton. They also want to add at least one more defensive back but possibly two. The Illini would like to add a junior college prospect, like Keisean Nixon, but also have a lot of B-list targets who could turn into offers based on senior evaluations.
The big focus, of course, is on the defensive line. The Illini landed a good prospect in Olalere Oladipo but will add at least three more defensive linemen. I'd add at least one more than that. The Illini need a defensive tackle but aren't desperate at that position with some solid young players at the position on the roster and several good targets still on the board. Defensive end is another story. Illinois needs immediate impact players on the edge. Illinois wants to add an immediate, high-impact junior-college transfer, but those could be hard to find. The Illini are shooting for some really good power-five prospects and selling immediate playing time to Florida's Owen Carney, Texas native Nelson Mbanasor, Arizona's Odua Isibor and Arizona commit Jalen Harris.
So far, Illinois is successfully pushing into their desired territories. The Illini already have six in-state commitments. The previous staff signed two in February. The Illini landed two commitments from the St. Louis area (Boyd and Tony Adams. They have just three St. Louis area natives on the entire current roster. The Illini also have three commitments from Florida (two from Miami and one from Tampa) and now one from Cincinnati. The Illini consider the Queen City -- a four-hour drive away -- in their recruiting footprint alongside Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis -- with The Circle City, just two hours west of campus down I-74, next on the list of territories Illinois wants to tap. The Illini have hosted dozens of prospects and coaches from Indianapolis since Lovie arrived. The Illini also are making big pushes in California (Hardy Nickerson was there last week), Alabama (McGee and Andrew Hayes-Stoker visited there last week) and Texas (Stoker and Bob Ligashesky were camped out there last week).null