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Dawaune Smoot, Hardy Nickerson Jr. headline Illinois Football's 2017 NFL Draft prospects

The Illini could see another two or three players selected next year.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NFL Draft wrapped up in Chicago last weekend, and the Fighting Illini produced three draft picks (Jihad Ward, Ted Karras, and Clayton Fejedelem). That's not exactly overwhelming on the surface, but it was an admirable effort considering those were the program's first selections since 2013. Hooray!

But, naturally, it's now time to turn our attention towards the 2017 draft. Which players could hear their names called next year? Here are some of the more likely candidates.

Note: With good-great seasons, I suppose any of the upperclassmen could be drafted.

Potential 2017 Draft Picks from Illinois

1. Dawaune Smoot (DE)

Smoot, a senior, is poised to be one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers in 2016 after tallying 15.0 TFLs and 8.0 sacks a year ago. Illinois' returning depth on the line isn't too great, so the bad news is that opposing teams will be able to key in on Smoot more often. But that'll also provide the 6-foot-3, 265-pound prospect with more opportunities to impress NFL scouts, who fall in love with defensive ends so easily.

2. Hardy Nickerson Jr. (LB)

Who is this, you ask? He's the team's new starting linebacker! The son of Illinois' defensive coordinator will be joining the program as a transfer after graduating from California this Summer. The 6-foot, 230-pound prospect was one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 last season, and he's an incredible addition at a position of need for the Illini.

Oh, and CBS has Nickerson ranked as the No. 4 ILB prospect in the 2017 draft class.

3. Wes Lunt (QB)

Lunt catches a lot of flak from fans, but let's quickly recap some of the disastrous circumstances surrounding his time in Champaign.

  • Bill Cubit was his offensive coordinator
  • He's had 3 head coaches in as many years
  • Mikey Dudek will miss two straight seasons with knee injuries
  • His healthy receivers can't catch the ball (60+ drops (!!) in 2015)
  • Bill Cubit was his offensive coordinator

And he still miraculously threw for 2761 yards and 14 touchdowns (6 interceptions) while completing 56.1% of his passes last season. You remember those dropped passes? Let's say 60% of those (36) were caught -- that would've brought Lunt's completion rate up to 63.6%. Also, it probably would've given Illinois another victory or two because, conservatively, those extra plays may have resulted in an additional 20-25 first downs.


The 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback absolutely has some areas of weakness (mobility, injuries, etc.), but he's able to make just about every throw in the book. I think Lunt has the potential to become an above-average pocket passer at the next level, but a more likely scenario is that he becomes a quality backup.

Just remember, though -- we live in a world where players like Jake Rudock get drafted. Anything is possible for Lunt if he has a good season while leading the Fighting Illini to 6ish wins.


I have no idea what NFL teams look for when scouting offensive lineman, but Illinois is usually pretty good at sneaking someone into the draft. How's that for #analysis?


If you're still thirsty for more on the 2017 NFL Draft, SB Nation has already put together a way-too-early mock of the first round; they've got Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson slated as the No. 1 overall pick.