Signee Spotlight: James Knight

Illini Inquirer's Jeremy Werner and Ryan Easterling break down what impact East St. Louis defender James Knight will have on the Illini

Ryan Easterling’s Scouting Report

Knight isn’t the biggest guy on the field.  He isn’t the fastest guy on the field.  But he might be the toughest and most hard-nosed guy on the field.  It wasn’t a fluke that Knight won several defensive player-of-the-year honors after East St. Louis’ state title run.  

Knight has a nose for the football and is strong at the point of attack for the defense.  He doesn’t ideally fit well into a single position, but could play a bit at linebacker, a bit at nickel, or a bit at safety.  However, his intangibles and mindset mean he could actually turn into a phenomenal special teams ace.

First-year impact

Knight would appear to be a great redshirt candidate. He needs time to make the likely transition from linebacker to safety or nickelback -- or maybe he tries to bulk up and play weakside linebacker later in his career. But Knight could make an immediate contribution on special teams, and Lovie Smith showed last season that he is willing to burn a redshirt on a true freshman who can shine on special teams. Rising sophomore Jake Hansen played almost exclusively on special teams and shined in the role.  - Jeremy Werner

Werner’s narrative

East St. Louis recruitments always seem to have some drama involved. Top 2016 target Tre’Vour Simms flip-flopped between Mizzou and Illinois often before signing with the This year, top-50 overall prospect and premier wide receiver Jeff Thomas changed his top-three several times during the last two months. Knight’s recruitment seemed to be an exception. Once Illinois offered, Knight seemed destined to sign with the Illini. But then the East St. Louis coaching staff took to Twitter (on the team’s official account), tweeting at the Illini staff on Jan. 15 if Knight’s offer was legit. On Jan. 16, the same account tweeted, “Certain schools like to play games with kids. We won't allow it. Good luck!” On Jan. 17, Knight committed to Illinois. The Flyers have one of the state’s most talented programs historically, so their relationship with the illini staff will be interesting to watch moving forward.

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