Jeremy Werner

Illini Recruiting Board Reset: Jan. 23

With just about a week left until Signing Day, what are the Illini's top needs and who are their main targets? Check out the Illini Recruiting Board Reset!

And down the stretch they come.

Illinois currently has 19 commitments in a recruiting class that currently ranks No. 36 in the team rankings and eighth overall in the Big Ten. All the numbers in that previous sentence will fluctuate greatly during the final eight days before Signing Day.

Illinois -- which hosted more than 10 official visitors last week, including several of their current commits -- will host several more official visitors this weekend for the final push in a class that likely will add 7-10 more prospects between now and Signing Day. The Illini will try to close out on several prospects they've prioritized for months while also attempting to quickly court prospects who just recently pinged on their radar.

How will the Illini use their remaining scholarships and who are their top targets? Check out the latest Illini Inquirer Recruiting Board Reset!!!


Commits: Cam ThomasDwayne Lawson

Available Scholarships: 0-1

Top Targets: Griffin Alstott

Werner's take: Illinois has its long-term option (Thomas) and short-term option (Lawson). But the Illini may not be done with this position. Illinois hosted Purdue committ Griffin Alstott for a visit over the weekend. The 6-foot-2, athletic Florida quarterback is the son of former Purdue great and NFL great Mike Alstott. Illinois wants more depth at the position, and Lovie Smith is familiar with the Alstott family from his time coaching at Tampa. The Illini would like more depth at the position, and Alstott has some similarities to Thomas. The question is whether Purdue will keep him. It probably wouldn't be smart of Brohm to tell a legacy recruit to take a hike. But even if Purdue keeps his commitment, the Alstotts probably want to see some excitement about bringing Griffin into the fold. A trip to Champaign shows that he's at least wavering, though a source told Illini Inquirer last week-- before the visit, mind you -- that Alstott was expected to stay with the Boilermakers. Also, 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 ceiling of Lawson. But the Illini want more depth because they don't want to be left with just one scholarship option, like they were last year.

Running backs

Commits: Mike EpsteinRa'Von Bonner

Available Scholarships: 0-1

Top Targets: none

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. The Illini have considered taking another back who can offer even more speed. But since Reggie Corbin is going to be a sophomore, it's not high on their list of priorities.

Wide receivers

Commits: Ricky SmallingCarmoni Green and Kendall Smith

Available scholarships: 1-2

Top TargetsJeff ThomasReggie Roberson

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. 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 -- plus, Illinois may play him on defense. 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 entered January as the consensus leader for Roberson, who offers versatility to play in the slot and on the perimeter and return kicks. The Illini still fell they are in good position, but this recruitment has gotten a lot more competitive with Roberson taking trips to Washington State and Utah already this month. Thomas left Illinois off his top-three and visited Miami this week, so he's looking more and more unlikely but that recruitment is full of surprises. Adams is a great player, and Illinois really likes him. But academic issues also hinder a possible marriage. If the Illini miss on Roberson, would they offer Tolbert or just use this scholarship elsewhere?

Tight ends

Commits: Louis Dorsey

Available scholarships: 0-1

Propsects to watch: Alex Pihlstrom

Werner's Take: Dorsey was a big get in terms of skill set and need. Tight end was the biggest remaining hole on the offensive big board, and Dorsey goes a long way to filling it. The Florida wideout who has the huge frame (6-6, 220) and physicality to develop into a dynamic tight end. 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 could take another tight end in this class, though the options seem limited. They've watched film of Pihstrom, a late-rising in-state tight end.

Offensive line

Commits: Larry BoydVederian LoweHoward Watkins

Available scholarships: 1-2

Top targets: Alex Palczewski

Prospects to watch: Preston MixonRyan Lieb

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 -- and Palczewski would be the cherry on top. 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 Palczewski -- who plans to announce a decision on Wednesday or Thursday -- would only fortify a more physical foundation up front. If Illinois lands Palczewski, offensive line coach Luke Butkus may be the happiest position coach on Signing Day. If they don't land him, there don't appear to be any clear backup candidates since Illinois has cooled on Preston Mixon

Defensive ends

Commits: Olalere Oladipo and Owen Carney

Available scholarships: 2-3

Top Targets: Zion DeBose, Bobby Roundtree, Jalen HarrisJamal WoodsDeon PateTorri Singletary

Prospects to watch: L.J. Cummings

Werner's Take: Carney and Oladipo are legit Big Ten defensive linemen who add size and athleticism on the edge but also eventually should provide versatility to switch inside on passing downs. Still, this remains a huge hole on the roster due to the losses of Dawuane SmootCarroll Phillips and Gimel President. Illinois still has a lot of options on the board, but they're separated into two tiers. The top tier includes DeBose, Roundtree or Harris. If Illinois lands one of them, they'd be thrilled. All have taken official visits and all have the length and athleticism the staff desires -- and all could make an immediate impact. But the competition is stiff for all of them. Harris, an Arizona commit, has Notre Dame and Washington offers. Virginia Tech is making a huge push for DeBose, and Indiana is very confident in landing Roundtree, despite having a bunch of defensive line commitments already. Again, a great goal is to land one of the three. Then the Illini could add one or two of the remaining mix of Woods, Pate and Singletary -- all candidates to take official visits this weekend. Woods seems more likely to develop into a three technique. Pate looks most ready to make an early impact, while Singletary may have the best upside due to his length and athleticism.

Defensive tackles

Commits: Kendrick Green

Available scholarships: 0-1

Prospects to watch: Boe TufeleCaylon May

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 team captain and defensive leader. Also, Oladipo and Woods could eventually move inside to the three-technique, so Illinois doesn't seem to be pushing for any other defensive tackles in this class.


Commits: Marc MondesirDelshawn Phillips

Available scholarships: 0-1

Prospects to watch: Grayson Diepenbrock

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 possible 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 may be open to adding another linebacker if he's talented enough and the right fit.

Defensive backs

Commits: Tony AdamsNate HobbsJames Knight

Available scholarships: 2-3

Top targets: Bennett Williams, Trajon CottonJordan SwannReed BlankenshipBrian Edwards

Prospects to watch: Marcus HayesRiley Ware IVYul GowdyZamari Maxwell

Werner's Take: This position group needs just as big of a makeover as any on the team, and the Illini still have some work today. The two cornerback commits are exciting though because the Illini love the speed, length and athleticism of Hobbs and Adams. Meanwhile, Knight adds a hard-hitting, in-the-box safety who could make a big impact on special teams. They need more. And after several of their top targets flew off the board during the last month, the Illini have cast a wider net. Williams, whose dad played football at Cal with defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, is visiting this weekend. Swann, a UConn commit, told Illini Inquirer that he may visit this weekend, and Lovie Smith has personally called Blankenship, a Middle Tennessee commit. Williams and Blankenship both would add range, instincts and ball skills at free safety -- and much needed depth at a thin position. Swann doesn't have great length, but he has good speed (possible return man) and ball skills. He could fit well in the nickelback role. Cotton and Edwards currently appear to be long shots.


Commits: none

Top targets: Ryan StonehouseBrad RobbinsRyan Gersonde

Available scholarships: 0-1

Werner's Take: Illinois special teams coach Bob Ligashesky is on a search to procure a punter. He visited Stonehouse and Robbins last week, and Illinois has done its homework on Gersonde. But will the Illini use a scholarship on a punter? The Illini certainly have the need and surplus of scholarships if they feel one is good enough to be a four-year starter. Yet, the Illini delayed two weeks after Tucker Day's official visit to offer him. He committed to Mississippi State earlier this month during an official visit (during which the Bulldogs extended a scholarship offer). Arizona recently offered Stonehouse. So the Illini likely need to use a scholarship offer if they want one of the country's best available legs.

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