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Illinois Fighting Illini in the NFL Week 12: Clayton Fejedelem Steps Up

Rookie safety gets first snaps on defense

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

In a season that’s already seen Josh Ferguson, Teddy Karras, Geronimo Allison and Jihad Ward play a number of snaps as rookies, another one joins the fold. Cincinnati Bengals safety Clayton Fejedelem, a former walk-on at Illinois, was pressed into defensive action for the first time in his NFL career this week and recorded three solo tackles including one for a loss. He’d spent time exclusively on special teams prior to this past week. He graded out pretty well according to Pro Football Focus, though his team did fall to the Ravens.

The most Illiniful game of the week was the San Diego Chargers’ 21-13 win over the Houston Texans, featuring four former Illini. Texans guard Jeff Allen’s unit allowed just one sack against the Chargers’ pass rush but were only able to spring the running game for 114 yards against Corey Liuget’s stout defensive line. Liuget finished with two tackles, while Texans fullback Jay Prosch recorded no stats. Three of Houston linebacker Whitney Mercilus’ four tackles came behind the line of scrimmage. Mercilus was featured on the brilliant NFL webcomic The Draw Play last week, with a look into a fictional origin story:

Dave Rappoccio (The Draw Play)

After clearing concussion protocol to return for Jacksonville’s game against the Buffalo Bills, Arrelious Benn played only on special teams, where he missed a tackle on a punt return by Brandon Tate. Perhaps Jacksonville should have him do less tackling and more catching. Geronimo Allison was not targeted in the Green Bay Packers’ Monday night win against Philadelphia, and the less said about Vontae Davis’ Thanksgiving performance the better. To be as generous as I can towards the Indianapolis corner, he was outperformed by Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and is clearly not as healthy as he’s been the last couple years. Here’s hoping he can recover.

In more positive news, Jihad Ward’s Oakland Raiders reached an astonishing 9-2 record as he played his most snaps of his rookie year and was a key component to the Raiders’ pass rush at times, setting up Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack for disruptive plays. Safety Tavon Wilson made 8 tackles for the division-leading Detroit Lions on their Thanksgiving victory against Minnesota for a secondary that suddenly looks quite good, and Akeem Spence was part of an overpowering defensive performance from Tampa Bay as they held the Seattle Seahawks to a mere 5 points and forced Pete Carroll to answer questions about the offensive line.

With Carroll Phillips, Dawuane Smoot and Hardy Nickerson looking quite draftable, some more Fighting Illini front seven players may join the trench warriors that have highlighted Illinois alumni in the NFL so far.