Jeremy Werner

Recruiting Board Reset: Dec. 20

Illinois earned its 14th commitment of the Class of 2017 from Cincinnati OL Howard Watkins on Monday. What holes must they still fill and who are their main targets?

Update - Dec. 22

Illinois added a commitment from four-star Peoria defensive tackle Kendrick Green on Thursday, giving Illinois a huge boost in the rankings and in the trenches.

If I re-ranked how Illinois is recruiting positions, I'd probably move defensive tackle up a few spots. I don't know if Green will be a future pro, but I'm pretty sure the Peoria product will be a future starter and future team captain. Adding him to Jamal Milan, Kenyon Jackson, TIto Odenigbo and Tymir Oliver gives Illinois a pretty darn good group at the position for the next three years.

I expect to need to update this board a few times before the New Year.

Illinois has 15 commitments now with potentially 10-14 spots left -- depending on how many early enrollees they sign (likely four) and how many they want to sign in the spring.

Original story

The Illinois offense -- which finished 10th worst among FBS teams in scoring offense (19.7 points per game) in 2016 -- is adding some much-needed talent.

Illinois added its 10th offensive and 14th overall prospect to the Class of 2017 on Monday with a commitment from offensive lineman Howard Watkins. The three-star Cincinnati Colerain prospect continues the much-needed fortification of of physicality to the front line. Illinois also has added athleticism and arm talent at quarterback, depth at running back and playmakers at receiver.

But what about the defense? Still a work in progress.

If I had to rank how Illinois is recruiting positions so far in the Class of 2017, it'd look like this.

1. Offensive line With 3 commits, Illini getting bigger, meaner, more physical
2. Wide receiver Smalling is a future No. 1; Green can take the top off a defense
3. Quarterback Illinois added potential short-term and long-term playmakers
4. Running back Bonner adds size and physicality; Epstein adds size and speed
5. Linebacker Already solid position adds short-term and long-term help 
6. Defensive tackle Illini don't have a huge need here but still have solid options
7. Tight end Illini long have been searching for options, may have found one
8. Defensive end Huuuuge need but many top targets still on the board 
9. Secondary Top need but most of their top targets are off the board 

So the offense looks good, and could only get better with a few scholarship spots at receiver, offensive line and tight end remaining.

But the Illini staff still has a lot of work to do on defense, especially on the edge and in the back end.

What holes must the Illini fill and who are their main targets? Check out the Illini football Recruiting Board Reset.

Quarterbacks

Commit: Cam ThomasDwayne Lawson

Available Scholarships: 0-1

Top Targets: Reyondous Estes

Werner's take: Illinois has its long-term option (Thomas) and short-term option (Lawson). But don't be surprised to see them further address this position. Estes not only would help with teammate Jeff Thomas, but he would add another athletic quarterback t the depth chart. A source said Illinois is no longer considering fifth-year options. Garrick McGee has confidence in Chayce Crouch, a high-floor option, and is excited at the high ceiing of Lawson.

Running backs

Commits: Mike EpsteinRa'Von Bonner

Available Scholarships: 0-1

Top Targets: Tim Jordan

Prospects to watch: Calvin Tyler

Werner's take: The Illini appear to have the two backs they want. But they would add a dynamic, do-it-all back like Jordan -- though that competition is getting pretty stiff. 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. The Illininhave considered taking 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.

Wide receivers

Commits: Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green

Available scholarships: 1-2

Top TargetsJeff ThomasReggie RobersonC.J. Cotman

Prospects to watch: Jaylond Adams, 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. 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. 

Illinois is the consensus leader for Roberson, who offers versatility to play in the slot and on the perimeter and return kicks. He plans an unofficial visit in January (which could be commit watch time). Illinois also is gaining with Thomas, though he has big academic concerns. But Illinois will take a chance on a rare, in-state playmaker like him.

Tight ends

Commits: none

Available scholarships: 1

Top targets: Louis DorseyJake Paulson, Christian Williams (JuCo)

Werner's Take: This is the biggest remaining hole on the offensive big board. 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. But the Illini appear to have fallen for Dorsey, a Florida wideout who has the huge frame (6-6, 220) and physicality to develop into a dynamic tight end. Illinois would like to get a visit from Paulson, a former WKU commit, next month. Williams received an Illini offer this fall, but it's been pretty quiet around his recruitment.

Offensive line

Commits: Larry BoydVederian LoweHoward Watkins

Available scholarships: 2

Top targets: Joshua Fedd-JacksonAlex PalczewskiPreston Mixon

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. Boyd may start next season at guard. 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, who projects to quickside tackle, will need time to develop. But as an early enrollee, he is starting that process soon. Illinois is getting stronger and meaner up front, and Fedd-Jackson and Palczewski -- who both plan January decisions -- would only fortify a more physical foundation up front. Mixon is more of a project but also is a huge body. If they finish this off the way they want, Luke Butkus may be the happiest position coach on Signing Day.

Defensive ends

Commits: Olalere Oladipo

Available scholarships: 3-4

Top Targets: Owen CarneyBobby RoundtreeDaniel Callendar, Deon PateEsezi OtomewoErnest Bagner (JuCo), Michael Boykin (JuCo) 

Prospects to watch: Christian Sampleton

Werner's Take: This remains Illinois' biggest hole on the roster, but many of their top options are still on the board. The Illini have a great chance to close on Carney by Christmas, and as an early enrollee, he may make an immediate impact. Roundtree, seemingly an Illinois-Indiana battle, also would be a big get. Callendar and Otomewo may take more time to develop but have high upsides. Bagner is visiting in January and could provide immediate help. Illinois just offered Pate, so they're even further widening the net. If Illinois has open scholarships in the spring, expect them to hit the grad transfer market -- hard.

Defensive tackles

Commits: Kendrick Green

Available scholarships: 0-1

Top targets: n/a

Prospects to watch: John MitchellCaylon MayBoe Tufele

Werner's Take: Replacing Chunky Clements and Rob Bain isn't easy, but the Illini have a lot of promise at this position -- especially after landing Green. 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, and Green looks like a future teamp captain and defensive leader.

Linebackers

Commits: Marc MondesirDelshawn Phillips

Available scholarships: 0-1

Top targets: James Knight

Werner's Take: The Illini have added some short-term (Phillips) and long-term (Mondesir) help to an already solid depth chart at this position. 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 compete with Harding and Hansen for playing time, but both have the raw tools.

Phillips, an athletic hard hitter, will start at middle linebacker. Mondesir fits the mold of what the Illini want: length and speed. The high school defensive lineman just will need some time to develop. Illinois didn't plan on adding many linebackers, but they have really fallen for East St. Louis linebacker James Knight. While he is undersized and a bit of a 'tweener he looks like a future special teams stud and could fit in at weakside linebacker. Plus, he may help with Thomas.

Defensive backs

Commits: Tony AdamsKendall Smith

Available scholarships: 2-3

Top targets: Nate HobbsZamari Maxwell, Rhedi ShortTrajon CottonDallas Branch

Prospects to watch: Juawan TreadwellJordan RowellMarcus Hayes (WMU commit)

Werner's Take: This is a huge position of need, and the Illini are running out of options. The targets are flying off the board with Quran Hafiz (Indiana), Antwan Collier (UCF), Devin Butler (Syracuse) and Keisean Nixon (South Carolina) picking other schools. Also, Cotton never visited this fall and now looks even less likely. The good news is that the Illini are heavy favorites for Hobbs. Maxwell may visit next month. But the Illini need more options and more length and athleticism in the secondary. They've scoured for some junior-college prospects who can help immediately but shouldn't reach just for depth. They need playmakers, and they can always look to add a grad transfer this spring. Kendall Smith may fit in at safety, though he needs to show more physicality. This will probably end up the position that leaves Illinois uneasy after Signing Day. But Illinois should prioritize a more talented player at another position rather than reaching for need here.

Punter

Commits: none

Available scholarships: 1

Werner's Take: Illinois offered Tucker Day on Wendesday. The timing was curious given that Day took an official visit earlier this month and left discouraged after not receiving an offer in Champaign. But the offer is his best (Rutgers has offered as well) and Illinois will make a big push now. Day plans to return to Illinois for an unofficial visit before Signing Day.

Fearless Forecast

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner makes his just-for-fun predictions of who will join the Illini in the Class of 2017, on top of the current commits

Quarterback: Rey Estes

Running back: none

Wide receiver: Reggie Roberson, Jeff Thomas

Tight end: Louis Dorsey

Offensive line: Joshua Fedd-Jackson, Alex Palczewski

Defensive end: Owen Carney, Ernest Bagner, Daniel Callender

Defensive tackle: None

Linebacker: James Knight

Defensive back: Nate Hobbs

Punter: Tucker Day


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