Elite Eight: Assessing The Early Signees

They arrived together, eight strong, in hopes of getting their college football careers going earlier than usual. And with this group being just the tip of the iceberg of another outstanding class, what better time to take a closer look at the first eight members of the Class of 2008 and assess their value to the Illinois football team.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE GRAHAM POCIC -- This 6-7, 320-pound offensive tackle plays a position in which it is hard to get on the field as a freshman. But don't count him out. There is a reason players come in early and one of those is to get on the field fast.

Pocic has exceptional feet for a player his size and is extremely strong. Whether he plays this year or not, he joins the likes of Jack Cornell, Craig Wilson and others as offensive linemen with legitimate chances to become All-American players and high NFL draft picks. Pocic will be a star, with a chance to do it as a left tackle.

2008 Outlook -- If he has a good spring, I would expect him to dress often in the fall, as did Wilson and Cornell and Mark Jackson and Mike Garrity, but still could redshirt. If he wins a job in the two-deep, he will not.

If I was to guess I'd guess redshirt because most o-linemen do. But I'm not certain. That's how good he is.

WIDE RECEIVER JARRED FAYSON -- The only downside to this 6-foot 200-pound transfer from Florida is that he is not eligible until 2009. But his explosive speed, nifty moves, soft hands and fluid style will make him a Big Ten superstar he minute he finally gets on the field.

This will be one of Zook's best signees. That's right, the guy who signed Rejus Benn and Tez Wilson and Vontae Davis and Juice Williams and a ton of other stars may have finally hit the jackpot. Fayson is that good. Look for him to play in the slot, by the way, allowing him a chance to run witn the ball some, too. But he is fast enough to pay outside.

2008 Outlook -- Not eligible until 2009.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE REGGIE ELLIS -- Coming in early will mean everything to this 6-2, 280-pounder. He comes to a position in which Illinois has very little proven talent and likes to rotate a number of players.

The question with true freshman lineman is are they strong enough. Not a problem withe Reggie. And perhaps most importantly, Reggie couldn't wait to get to Champaign because he can't wait to play for this team.

2008 Outlook -- I would be shocked if he didn't play. The Illini need numbers at d-tackle and he fits the bill. A good spring could mean in the two-deep -- worst case is three-deep. Ellis helps right away.

RUNNING BACK MIKEL LESHOURE -- LeShoure is the guy who may not do anything great, but does everything well. Will get his first look as a feature back, but could evolve into third down back, short yardage back, fullback, you name it. Another guy that can't wait to play for Illinois.

And he, too, is arriving at the perfect time. He and Walter Mendenhall will be the only big backs in sprig.

2008 Outlook -- I think he plays. Guy can do too many things not to. Can block, play a number of positions, catch, and even special teams. And he has a spring under his belt. Will run the ball some, but I think his value year will be by being a multi-purpose guy.

DEFENSIVE END WHITNEY MERCILLUS -- At 6-2, 225 he isn't the biggest guy, but has as good a motor as you will ever see. And the best thing is with an incredible wing span and being very young, can still grow a lot. Ultimately, may the best sleeper in the class.

2008 Outlook: I say he plays. By 2009, Derek Walker and Will Davis will be gone, so the more players that play early the more ready they will be when their time comes whenver it is.

OFFENSIVE GUARD JEFF ALLEN -- This guy is a monster -- 6-4, 324 -- but he can really move. The job for Lou is to tighten up that girth while making him stronger. That will happen. This guys is a story.

2008 Outlook -- Definite redshirt possibility for same reason as mentioned before -- tough to play offensive linemen early. Could compete in 2009 though.

CORNERBACK ASHANTE WILLIAMS -- One thing Ron Zook doesn't like is small cornerbacks who can't help in run pursuit. That is why he went and got a corner who is physical like a safety. This guy will help the cause.

2008 Outlook: Could play because of the lack of depth at the position and he is very physical.

WIDE RECEIVER FRED SYKES -- Will be good in time, but it may take some time. Clearest redshirt candidate on the list.

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