Commit: Cam Thomas
Available Scholarships: 1-2
Top Targets: Reyondous Estes, Transfer targets TBD
Werner's take: This is the most interesting story line between now and signing day. Chayce Crouch will return as the Illini's top option -- and he could be solid based on the small sample size we got of him this season-- but the tough runner likely will not be available this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. Jeff George Jr. got four games of starting experience but didn't look like a starting quality quarterback for most of it. Thomas is what the Illini want at the position: athletic, track-speed fast, smart and a solidly strong arm. But he's pretty raw and should be redshirted next season. The Illini are considering adding other prep targets and have scoured the JuCo market. But expect them to focus mostly on the grad transfer market for a guy who can come in right away and start. Notre Dame's Malik Zaire certainly would fit the bill of what they want, but he may be the most recruited grad transfer of this cycle.
Available Scholarships: 0-1
Top Targets: n/a
Prospects to watch: Calvin Tyler
Werner's take: The Illini appear to have the two backs they want. Epstein and Bonner both had huge senior seasons and offer different strengths. Bonner is a bigger back who has similarities to former Minnesota star David Cobb. Epstein has some similarities to current Illini Dre Brown in that he is an instinctive runner who uses his blocks well and has enough burst to break away for big gains. If the Illini take another back, it'd be a speedy scat back, like Tyler, who can offer even more versatility. But since Reggie Corbin is going to be a sophomore, it's not high on their list of priorities.
Available scholarships: 1-2
Prospects to watch: Jalin Tolbert
Werner's Take: Receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker can't wait for the Class of 2017 to get on campus. Receiver was the Illini's worst position group this season because it couldn't consistently do what receivers first need to do: separate and get open. The Illini need speed, quickness and route running. They also need some guys with physicality to get open against Big Ten press corners. Ricky Smalling will add that from Day One. Heck, he would've started this season. Green isn't as refined, but he'll add a deep-play threat -- if the Illini can hold onto him. Smith is a phenomenal athlete but must gain strength and physicality (which is why he likely won't play defense, like Illinois originally thought). The Illini would love to add a slot receiver who can make plays in the open field. This group could take a big step forward, especially if Mike Dudek gets back on the field.
Available scholarships: 1
Top targets: Christian Williams
Prospects to watch: n/a
Werner's Take: The Illini staff got here too late to take advantage of a great group of in-state tight ends, and their options have been limited ever since. The Illini have some solid young talent at the position. Rising sophomore Caleb Reams is undersized but is a good athlete with great hands. But he must improve his blocking to see the field. Rising sophomore Zarrian Holcombe played WR this season, but the staff is still hopeful that he'll add the strength to be a tight end. He's a high-ceiling receiving target, but can he block? Rising redshirt freshman Andrew Trainer has a huge frame but isn't all that athletic. Would he be better suited off bulking up to play OT? Rising redshirt freshman Griffin Palmer is the best all-around prospect because he's a solid athlete with good strength for blocking. Williams would add some immediate depth, but this could be a big position of need in 2018.
Available scholarships: 2-3
Prospects to watch: Tyler Fannin
Werner's Take: Illinois is off to a great start to upgrading the offensive line, where it needs to add size and physicality to compete in the Big Ten. Rising junior Nick Allegretti (who may move from guard to center) took a big step forward as a sophomore, and the team expects rising sophomore Gabe Megginson (who likely will move out to tackle) to take a similar leap. Larry Boyd should start next season at guard. Vederian Lowe, a likely future strongside tackle, needs some technique work but his pure power and quick feet should put him high on the team's second unit from the start. Watkins is basically down to Illinois and Iowa State, and Illinois is the leader for Fedd-Jackson. The Illini also are the biggest offer for Mixon, who has been pretty quiet recently. The Illini also have looked at JuCo options, but few great options have emerged. If they finish this off the way they want, Luke Butkus may be the happiest position coach on Signing Day.
Commits: Olalere Oladipo
Available scholarships: 3-4
Prospects to watch: Christian Sampleton
Werner's Take: Illinois loses two of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten (Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips) as well as its top backup (Gimel President) -- and they have little to no experience behind them (Henry McGrew, Sean Adesanya and Brandon Jones). Realistically, at least two and maybe even three of their top four players in the rotation next season likely will be signed in this class. The Illini are selling immediate playing time to most of their top targets, and Lovie is looking for long athletes, most of whom look like they can play small forward for the basketball team. Carney and Roundtree would be big gets with the chance to make an immediate impact. Callendar and Otomewo may take more time to develop but have high upsides. Boykin, who has three scholarship seasons remaining, is a freak and is the Illini's best JuCo target, regardless of position.
Available scholarships: 1-2
Werner's Take: Replacing Chunky Clements and Rob Bain isn't easy but the Illini have promise at this position. Plus, Clements and Bain both lost their starting spots to freshmen at some point, so how much will the Illini actually lose? Rising redshirt sophomore Jamal Milan has the potential (due to his strength and athleticism) to be a star and a pro -- he just needs to remain healthy. Rising sophomore Kenyon Jackson is very short for the position but powerful and athletic with advanced technique for his age. Rising junior Tito Odenigbo and rising sophomore Tymir Oliver are similar physically. Neither is a phenomenal athlete but a big body that is tough to move. One could move out to defensive end to add depth. That's not a bad four-deep, though the Illini need to add at least one more body for current and future depth. Any of the options above look like solid options.
Commits: Marc Mondesir
Available scholarships: 0-1
Werner's Take: Despite the loss of Hardy Nickerson, the Illini look to be in solid shape at linebacker, especially with the emergence of Tre Watson. Bill Cubit's staff did a nice job of adding linebackers in the Class of 2015. Dele Harding and Jake Hansen look like future starters. It's a big offseason for rising junior Julian Jones and rising redshirt sophomore Justice Williams, who will be counted on for bigger contributions next season, but both have the raw tools. Mondesir fits the mold of what the Illini want: length and speed. With such big needs elsewhere, Illinois likely will only take a linebacker if it's a really good one.
Commits: Tony Adams
Available scholarships: 3-5
Werner's Take: The Illini have spread a wide net for play-making defensive backs. The Illini would like to add an immediate impact cornerback, like Nixon or Butler, who can come in and start opposite senior Jaylen Dunlap next season. But the Illini also need an infusion of talent in a secondary that lacks length, athleticism and speed. Lovie wants physical corners who can press and cover a lot of ground in a small amount of time. The Illini made few plays on the ball this season. Current freshmen safeties Stanley Green and Patrick Nelson have shown physicality against the run, but there is little depth nor athleticism behind them.
Available scholarships: 1
Werner's Take: Graduating senior Ryan Frain was a bit inconsistent but overall pretty solid. The Illini also lose his backup, David Reisner, so they are pretty set on adding a scholarship punter. They would've liked to have added a scholarship kicker but the previous staff signed 2016 prospect James McCourt.
Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner makes his way-too-early (and just-for-fun) predictions of who will join the Illini in the Class of 2017, on top of the current commits
Quarterback: Transfer TBA (we've speculated names like Zaire and Louisville's Kyle Bolin, but it's too early to call here)
Running back: none
Wide receiver: Reggie Roberson
Tight end: Christian Williams
Offensive line: Howard Watkins and Joshua Fedd-Jackson
Defensive end: Owen Carney, Bobby Roundtree, Ernest Bagner, Daniel Callender
Defensive tackle: Caylon May
Defensive back: Devin Butler, Quran Hafiz, Rhedi Short
Punter: Nathan Snyder