Signing Day Spotlight: Ricky Smalling

The Illini have inked one of the most dominant in-state receivers in recent years in Ricky Smalling. Illini Inquirer's Jeremy Werner and Ryan Easterling take a closer look at what the Illini are getting in the Chicago (IL) Brother Rice product.

Ryan Easterling’s Scouting Report

Reminds me of: Dez Bryant.  Ok, I get it, Dez is a really polarizing figure, but from a football standpoint, Smalling plays with a similar mindset on the field as far as his tenacity and competitiveness.  Smalling jokes around a bit more on the sidelines than Bryant, but he flips the switch when he gets on the field.  

Smalling has a similar build as Bryant, and his aggressiveness in attacking the football in the air, even when draped in coverage, gives him a chance to catch any ball thrown his way.  His hands are very reliable, and he uses those strong hands to secure the ball.  He isn’t the fastest receiver out there, but man, he just has that rare knack to make big play after big play.  And after being super productive at the high school level, the table is set for him to thrive early at Illinois.

Oh, and his touchdown celebration (which he got to do a lot throughout his HS career) is just like Dez’s, too.


First-year impact

Smalling could be a Day One starter. Heck, he might have started for Illinois last season if he were on the roster. The Illini receiving corps was one of the worst in the Big Ten and the country last year. It not only lacked speed but the strength to get open against physical coverage. Malik Turner returns as a good Big Ten starter, and the Illini hope Mike Dudek makes his long-awaited return to the field. But Smalling will have a great opportunity to be a big part of the rotation from Game One. - Jeremy Werner


Werner’s narrative

Smalling gave Lovie Smith his first commitment -- simultaneously with Bolingbrook athlete Kendall Smith -- back in April, and it was a huge one. Smalling not only is a big-time player, but he is a bit of pied piper. He’s visited Illinois for several recruiting events and is the ringleader of not only the in-state commitments but the class as a whole. He played a role in helping recruit Owen Carney and Carmoni Green and even went to Texas to visit fellow receiver Reggie Roberson. Smalling has great athleticism and skill, but he also is an elite competitor and should help cultivate a hard-working, winning culture. He also has the personality to become one of the faces of the program.


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