It's been two years since Illinois last produced a NFL Draft pick, but it appears that streak is on the verge of coming to an end this Spring. On Thursday, Fighting Illini football announced that three departing seniors -- Jihad Ward, Geronimo Allison, and Josh Ferguson -- have received invitations to participate in the 2016 NFL Draft combine in Indianapolis.
The three Illini, along with more than 300 other collegiate players, will participate in a series of drills, evaluations, and interviews in front of NFL personnel from February 23-29.
Jihad Ward is unanimously considered to be Illinois' best NFL prospect. The six-foot-five defensive end is skyrocketing up draft boards after participating in the Senior Bowl practices, and is currently projected to be a mid-second to early-third round pick. Here's his quick evaluation from NFL.com:
Above average athleticism for a man his size and he has the effort level that should lead to continued improvement in the areas where he is deficient. Ward is a developmental prospect who has the size to fit as a 4-3 base end or defensive tackle and as a 3-4 defensive end. Is he mean enough to play inside though? He might need a position coach to draw that out of him while he continues to develop.
Allison also impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl (6 receptions, 68 yards, and 2 touchdowns), and he'll likely be selected in the mid-late stages of the draft. Six-foot-four wide receivers can be a valuable weapons in the NFL so, if he posts a good 40-yard dash time, Allison won't have a problem finding a home at the next level.
Ferguson probably won't hear his name called, but his elite quickness and play-making ability may make it difficult for teams to pass on him during the later rounds.