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Fighting Illini in the NFL: Former Illinois DE Jihad Ward headlines 2016 rookie class

Where are they now? Here’s a quick preseason look at former Illinois players in the NFL

NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We're going to be keeping up with the Illinois Fighting Illini playing in the NFL on a weekly basis. However since the preseason just wrapped up, here's an extensive roundup of all the active alumni I can recall. You can expect future editions to take a closer look at regular season stats.

The 2016 Rookies

Jihad Ward, second round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, is on pace to contribute right away and is really impressing people in camp.

Teddy Karras made the 53-man roster for the New England Patriots, as did Josh Ferguson for the Indianapolis Colts. Clayton Fejedelem did the same for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Patriots cut V'Angelo Bentley a few weeks ago, and the Packers cut Geronimo Allison before signing him to their practice squad.

Established Players

A number of Fighting Illini have already made names for themselves as NFL-caliber starters. Whitney Mercilus did even better, winning the Houston Texans' "Spirit of the Bull" Award. Also expected to start for the Texans are fullback Jay Prosch, one of the last fullbacks in the league, and guard Jeff Allen, who was signed by Houston in the offseason.

Safety Tavon Wilson is in the mix for a starting job with Detroit, and Corey Liuget has become an impact player for the San Diego Chargers.

Others in this group have run into recent trouble. Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis will miss extended time with an ankle injury for the Colts. Likewise, veteran corner Alan Ball is dealing with a quad injury after signing with the Cardinals. Tight end Matt LaCosse of the Giants may miss the entire season while recovering from knee surgery. Three other Illini are already on injured reserve, too; an Achilles tear has sidelined Jeff Cumberland of the Chargers, Michael Hoomanawanui was placed on the Patriots' IR this past weekend, and Hugh Thornton never returned to action for the Colts after being injured last year.

Fringe Players

There are also those who have been trying to hang on to professional careers in training camp. Receiver Arrelious Benn, who has spent the last three seasons on injured reserve, was cut but promptly re-signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he will hopefully get a chance to shine when fully healthy. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence made Tampa Bay's 53-man roster.

Up north, offensive lineman Xavier Fulton re-signed with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders, while receiver Ryan Lankford has seen some action for them as well. Michael Buchanan is currently on the Edmonton Eskimos' practice squad. Meanwhile, former Detroit Lion Mikel Leshoure was recently signed by the B.C. Lions, but failed to show up for rookie camp.

Curiously, Jon Asamoah remains unsigned after being cut by the Falcons last December. The latest news is from then, when the Falcons reached an injury settlement with the offensive lineman.

UPDATE: Asamoah actually announced his retirement back in April with a Facebook post (h/t @g_mo68)

The Rest

2013's surprise breakout wide receiver Steve Hull was signed by the New Orleans Saints, but retired in 2014 due to injury history.

Receiver A.J. Jenkins was last seen being cut by the Dallas Cowboys last year. The former first-round pick of the 49ers is now somewhat infamous in the Bay Area as he made virtually no impact on the league.

Corner Terry Hawthorne failed to make the Steelers 53-man roster in 2013 after hurting himself in training camp. The 5th-round pick had a brief stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but abruptly left to return to school in 2014. He’s now a secondary coach at East St. Louis high school.

OL Graham Pocic was last seen giving his thoughts on the 2015 veteran combine after being cut from the Steelers in 2014.

Nose tackle Josh Brent retired from playing and joined the Cowboys' scouting department last year.

Linebackers Nate Bussey and Martez Wilson, both of whom had stints with the Saints, were last seen in CFL transactions in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Neither show up on any current rosters.

Linebacker Jonathan Brown was cut from the Bears in 2014 around the same time veteran corner Kelvin Hayden got released by the same franchise.

Linebacker Ian Thomas was not signed after a tryout for the Washington Redskins in 2013. However, he was named the coach of St. Vincent Paliotti high school in Laurel, MD last year.

Receiver Jarred Fayson was last seen on the Toronto Argonauts in 2014, but does not show up on their current roster.