More bad news came out of Champaign this week as sophomore strong-side defensive end Paul James III was revealed to have left the Illini football program (and the school altogether). Robert of Illiniboard was the first to notice and report his departure.
Sophomore defensive end Paul James III has withdrawn from school. James was set to be the starter at DE in 2016. Huge, huge loss.— Robert (@ALionEye) August 6, 2015
While the defensive end position is filled this season by seniors Jihad Ward (aka Godzilla) and Kenny Nelson, there will now be a severe dearth of options next season. Both Ward and Nelson graduate, and James III was fully expected to step into the starting role.
Without James III, there is nobody else on the roster at defensive end next season. Joshua Black, a three-star defensive end from Machesney Park, is committed to the Illini in the 2016 class but a true freshman can't be expected to start at the Big Ten level.
This means it's likely the Illini would have to put together a JUCO recruit for 2016 pretty quickly. In the absence of that, current LEOs Dawaune Smoot or Sean Adesanya are the two guys with the size on the other end of the D line to potentially move to SDE for a season. Neither would be optimal though, and the best solution here is a JUCO recruit in the Jihad Ward mold.
James III was a highly regarded recruit, with the look of a great defensive end, but he was never able to figure it out off the field in Champaign. Perhaps the staff could've planned better for him leaving, based on how many games he's missed over his years for non-football reasons.
Regardless of how or why it happened, this is a tough loss for the defensive line next season.