Ryan Easterling's Wish List
I think it’s safe to say that Thomas tops a lot of Illini fans’ wish lists this year, and for good reason. A top-50 recruit and one of the most electric playmakers in the nation, Thomas would be a statement recruit for Lovie and his staff as they close out their first full year in Champaign. With legitimate sub-4.4 speed and an uncanny ability to make defenders miss, Thomas is a big play waiting to happen, and the Illini sure hope he ends up on their side of the matchup.
Illinois needs defensive end recruits. I’ll say that one more time.. ILLINOIS NEEDS DEFENSIVE END RECRUITS. The duo of Dawaune Smoot and Carroll Phillips was a good one for Illinois, but they both depart, and the last staff left the cupboard pretty bare at the position. Carney, who has said he will enroll early, is one of their top defensive end targets, and the prospect of him being on campus this spring makes it that much more important to land him. Not to mention, he has a teammate in Carmoni Green that the Illini would sure love to hang onto come signing day.
Illinois has a solid young group of interior defensive linemen, but lack a true disruptive interior pass rusher like Green. The two-way star for Peoria is not far from Champaign, but the Illini waited to evaluate him at defensive tackle prior to offering. The state championship game gave them more than enough reason to do that. Green was consistently causing havoc in the backfield and was unblockable most of the game. Pairing Green with Jamal Milan and Kenyon Jackson would give Illinois a deep rotation of powerful tackles to build upon.
Yeah, Illinois would already have a good core group of receivers with Smalling, Green, and especially if they add Thomas. But if this past year was any indication, Illinois was severely lacking guys who could run crisp routes and get separation, especially in the slot. That’s where a guy like Roberson thrives. Roberson is a meticulous route runner who was extremely productive throughout his senior year at Mesquite (Texas) Horn. If both Roberson and Thomas joined the Illini, they, along with Thomas and Green would almost assuredly be a majority of the receiver rotation next year.
I’m not as optimistic about this one, but Illinois needs a solid man-to-man cornerback moving forward. Jaylen Dunlap will be a senior next year, and while Cameron Watkins has emerged as the number 2 guy, the position still lacks adequate depth, and Hafiz is the type of guy who could provide that early in his career. He’s another likely early-enrollee and would be able to get acclimated to the defense during the spring with the potential to contribute as a true freshman in the cornerback rotation.
- OT Alex Palczewski: Sleeper in-state OL who Illinois discovered and is now an important target for numerous programs
- DE Bobby Roundtree: Roundtree has been one of Lovie’s personal priorities the last few months. Roundtree is a long, athletic DE with a ton of potential, but Illinois will have to fend off Indiana to land him.
- CB Antwan Collier: Illinois had the Miami corner committed at one point, now they hope to get him back in the fold by signing day.
- OL Howard Watkins: Long been a priority OL recruit for Illinois. Maybe Christmas comes early on this one.
Jeremy Werner's Wish List
Talent like Thomas come around often in this state, and when it does, Illinois rarely has an opportunity to land that talent. The 2016 season showed Illinois' lack of playmakers on the perimeter. With his elite speed and quickness, Thomas certainly won't have issues getting separation. Imagine new, talented transfer quarterback Dwayne Lawson throwing to a group of receivers that includes Thomas, Mike Dudek, Ricky Smalling, Carmoni Green and others. Pardon my drool.
The Largo (Fla.) defensive end needs some time to develop and may not be as big of an immediate impact player as some defensive end targets, but he appears to be Lovie Smith's top defensive end target, so I'll side with him as the top defensive end on my wish list -- though not the last. Defensive end is a black hole in 2017, so much so that a defensive tackle likely will be shifted to the outside to fill the gap. But Roundtree has the length and athleticism the Illini want. Lovie has told Roundtree he reminds him of Julius Peppers. That's a high bar, but his floor may be former Illini Michael Buchanan, who played in the NFL for a few seasons.
Time to get greedy at this position. The Illini need a handful of defensive ends, including some JuCos, and Carney is a top-50 defensive end who the Illini have the chance to close on in the next few weeks. The early enrollee will sign with his school of choice later this month, and Illinois has prioritized him while other programs have slow-played him. He would participate in spring ball and contribute immediately.
Peoria rarely produces talent like this lineman, who could play center though Illinois wants him as a defensive tackle. Green recently rose to four-star status at Scout, and Illinois offered last month, changing the dynamic of this recruitment. Green, who helped lead Peoria to a Class 5A state title, is just a great football player and a future team captain. He would be a great foundation and program recruit -- and keeping him away from Iowa, Minnesota and Rutgers would be nice too. While defensive end is a huge concern, defensive tackle has a bright future for Illinois if it adds Green to the fold.
Catching on to the theme here? Linemen, linemen, linemen. Illinois certainly needs more speed, but the rebuild must start with a foundation in the trenches. Illinois did a great job of identifying Palczewski's impressive senior film and acting quickly. The Illini were the first to offer, and that offer has caused Palczewski to blow up a bit with the in-state tackle earning recent offers from Syracuse and Vanderbilt. Adding Palczewski to Larry Boyd and Vederian Lowe would give Illinois a much bigger, more physical foundation for the foreseeable future.
- OL Howard Watkins: Yes, another lineman. Watkins called Illinois his leader last month, and that hasn't changed with a decision coming -- likely sooner than later.
- WR Reggie Roberson: The Texas wide receiver actually is one of my favorite targets left on the board. He has the speed to play in the slot but also the length to play on the perimeter. He also could provide an immediate impact as a returner. I could put Jaylond Adams in this spot too, though he may have some academic hurdles to clear.
- CB Quran Hafiz: Cornerback is a huge need, and Hafiz has length, athleticism and physicality. He also will enroll this spring and could compete for immediate playing time.
- CB Antwan Collier: The former Illini commit is waiting on a Miami offer. If it doesn't come, will he come back to the Illini? Nebraska also is in the mix.