The Illini have been horrible this year. There are no more words to describe the level of suck. We are bad. What may be surprising to some is there are still some very nice NFL draft prospects for the Illini for the 2013 draft. Let's review them.
Terry Hawthorne, CB, 6 ft, 190 lbs.
Terry has had a very up and down season. He has played well at times, but his play has fallen off a bit as injuries have slowed Hawthorne down. Terry has the speed, instincts and coverage ability to be a #2 corner in the NFL. He is athletic enough to stay with NFL receivers, and his savvy allows him to make some great plays. He is clearly more comfortable in zone coverage, where his aggressiveness helps out greatly, but in man coverage, his risky style can lead to big plays against him. The main issue for him is his lack of physicality. He is going to have to hit the weight room and become more comfortable in press coverage to succeed in the NFL. His athletic ability will be enough to be a day 2 pick (mid 3rd).
Michael Buchanan, DE/OLB, 6 ft 6in, 250 lbs.
Another great athlete that Ron Zook brought in back when Ron Zook actually put effort into recruiting. Buchanan has great speed for a linemen. Also is blessed with great first step that allow him to blow past OTs. He also is very solid in the run game. He sets the edge very well. He has a very good frame, but NFL scouts would love to see him add 10 lbs. At times he is simply engulfed by larger linemen and he is almost purely an edge rusher at this point with a lack of inside moves. He could play in either a 4-3 at a defensive end or a 3-4 as an OLB. I prefer him in a 3-4 where his speed off the edge could be used to great effect. If he blows up the combine with some great numbers, he could be in the early 2nd round range, but this is a great class of pass rushers. For now I see him as a early 3rd round pick, which is unfortunate, because he has the talent to be picked much higher, but again, this is a tremendous class of pass rushers and Buchanan has not shown much this year.
Graham Pocic, C, 6 ft 7 in, 310 lbs.
The Illini offensive line is a joke. They have been beyond terrible. Graham Pocic's play has fallen off this year, but it's mostly due to the talent around him on the line. Pocic is everything you would want in a center. He's big and strong and he has a frame that could add some more bulk. He is a very good run blocker and he has the athleticism to get to the second level. At this point, he is a mediocre pass protector, but C rarely have a one on one in pass protection. He is a borderline top 5 center in the 2013 class, but interior linemen are not valued highly. I see him going in day 3, 5th round.
Glenn Foster, DE/DT, 6 ft 4in, 280 lbs.
Foster is an average Big Ten defensive linemen. He came in at DE, but he was switched to DT, where his play improved. He was undersized, but since he played next to Akeem Spence, it was not a big factor. He was allowed to rush the passer aggressively. For the NFL though, he is extremely undersized and he doesn't have the athleticism to play DE. Some may say put him a 3-4 DE, but that's not as easy a transition as most think. I see him as an UDFA.
Hugh Thornton, OT/OG, 6 ft 5 in, 310 lbs.
Hugh switched to LT after playing LG, and that move may have bought him stock in the draft. Hugh is a solid linemen. He is a good pass protector, but he struggles against the elite pass rushers. His run blocking is solid, but a little more strength would serve him well. The best quality about Hugh is his versatility. He has played both G and OT in the Big Ten and he has played both well. The ability to play multiple positions on the line is a huge plus. I see him being drafted in the 6th or 7th round.
Supo Sanni, FS, 6 ft 3 in 215 lbs.
Supo has battled many injuries during his time as an Illini. He has played in 6 of 11 games so far in 2012 and he missed all of 2010. When he is on the field, he is a fine player. He is good in run support and is slightly above average in coverage. Suppo has a great frame for a safety and he is a good enough athlete to get a shot in the NFL. I see his stock as 7th round-UDFA.
Justin Green, CB, 5 ft 11in, 195 lbs.
I had high hopes for Justin Green as an Illini after he showed some flashes early, but he never developed into the top CB I hoped he would become. He still has those few plays that are eye catching enough to be given a shot on some teams training camp roster as an UDFA.
Draft Eligible Juniors
Akeem Spence, DT, 6ft 1 in, 305 lbs
Akeem Spence is gone. He has already finished his degree and his draft stock won't improve much with another year of play. He will be leaving the team, though the selfish fan in me is begging he will stay. He won't.
Spence is a great 3 technique prospect for a 4-3 defense. He is very strong despite being a bit undersized. In fact, being a bit shorter allows Akeem to have great leverage against tall offensive linemen. He has good potential as a pass rusher and already has a decent bull rush. His only problem is inconsistency. Some games he brings it and is a total force and others he disappears. This will make scouts question his motor. I see him going in the mid to late second.
Jonathan Brown, 4-3 OLB, 6 ft 1in, 235 lbs.
Jonathan Brown is a tremendous LB. His sophomore season was terrifyingly amazing. He had 20.5 tackels for a loss in 2011. He was a force in the run game and the pass game. I don't use the term "beast" often, but beast is the best word to describe Brown's sophomore season.
Fast forward to now, and Jonathan Brown's draft stock is all over the place. He hasn't had a bad year, but he has not had a great year. Injuries have been a factor, as well as the team around him, but Jonathan Brown is not making the impact plays he was in 2011. If he wanted to come out now, he would likely be a 3rd round pick. He has tremendous speed and he is a playmaker on defense. He excels in the run game and he is dangerous as a pass rusher. He is a good enough athlete to be good in coverage, but right now he is not. My advice to Brown would be to stay in school another year and all signs point to him doing so (fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc. etc.) and if he returns to 2011 form, he would easily be worth a 2nd round pick.
Thanks for reading. What do you all think? Agree? Disagree? Have it out in the comments!