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Freshman Orientation: Defensive End Paul James

James was one of the surprises of the 2013 class, and hopefully he'll be one of its biggest stars.

The Basics

Name: Paul James
Position: Defensive End
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Height: 6'3
Weight: 240
Stars: Rivals 3, 247Sports 3, ESPN 4


Paul James was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. He had originally committed to West Virginia and had offers from schools like Alabama, Texas A&M, Miami and Florida State, yet, somehow, some way, he wound up choosing the Illini.

While Rivals and 247Sports have James listed as a 3-star prospect, ESPN not only has him as a 4-star player, but as the highest-rated player in the entire Illinois class. Higher than Aaron Bailey. All I know is that judging by his size, speed and game tape, I'm excited about the possibilities with James.

After Whitney Mercilus left for the NFL the Illini defense found itself a bit thin on the pass rush in 2012. Yes, the defense regressed as a whole, but you'd be surprised how good a mediocre defense can look when it has a great pass rusher or two.

Mercilus finished the 2011 season with 16 sacks as the Illini finished second in the Big Ten with 41 as a team. Mercilus also had 22.5 tackles for loss, a stat the Illini defense also finished second in the Big Ten with 103. In 2012 without Mercilus the Illini finished tied for eighth in sacks with 22 and ninth in tackles for loss with 66.

That's the kind of impact that losing a premier pass-rusher can have on your defense. If Paul James can help the Illini get some of that production back then he'll make the entire defense around him that much better.