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2017 Illinois Football Player Reviews: Defensive Backs

We take our final look at the Illinois roster with the defensive backfield.

NCAA Football: Illinois at South Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

We wrap up our series reviewing the performance of each Illinois player as we see what might be in store for the Illini’s future with the secondary.

The Illinois secondary was not half bad at times in 2017, but the young players in the secondary were prone to key mistakes. Illinois held opponents to under 200 yards per contest, and were ranked thirty-third in total passing defense.

A huge part of that comes from the fact that Illinois often trailed by two or more scores and team prefered to run the ball against a poor rush defense. Still, the secondary showed a good ability in Lovie Smith’s cover three defense to make life hard for opposing receivers.


Jaylen Dunlap

Jaylen Dunlap Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
10 29 19 10 0.5 0 6 1 1 0

Jaylen Dunlap finished a solid career for Illinois with a good senior season. After missing the first two games of the year, Dunlap became one of the leaders on a young team. His five pass breakups led the Illini. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention by coaches, and finally picked up his first career interception against Indiana.

Dunlap saw few wins during his time with the program, but played hard and had a college career he can be proud of.

Bennett Williams

Bennett Williams Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
11 64 34 30 1.5 0 5 3 1 0

Bennett Williams came out of seemingly nowhere — Illinois was the only power five school to offer Williams a scholarship — to have a great true freshman season and make the ESPN Freshman All-American team.

Williams excelled in his role as the low safety in the cover three defense, almost acting as an extra linebacker. He had the physicality to support the run and make tackles, and he even supported the blitz occasionally. He led Illinois with three interceptions.

There are a few areas that Williams needs to improve in, but this was a fantastic debut season. Williams will be a major part of the defense for Illinois going forward.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
5 8 4 4 1 1 1 1 0 0

Tony Adams was only able to play in five games before being sidelined with an injury. The true freshman showed some promise in those games, highlighted by a great game against USF on the road where Adams recorded a sack and an interception.

He played both nickel and corner, and he will be in contention to be a starting cornerback for the Illini in 2018.

Stanley Green

Stanley Green Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
10 70 37 33 0 0 2 1 3 1

Green had a good season. He was second on the team in tackles with 70, and continued his trend of forcing fumbles leading the team with three. He is a very physical safety and a big hitter. He is a good player to have on your team.

BUT, he needs to learn to stop hitting players in the head. He was ejected for targeting against USF, and should have been ejected again against Purdue, but to to some officiating shenanigans he avoided the targeting call.

All in all, I stand by my tweet from October 14 when it comes to Stanley Green.

Nate Hobbs

Nate Hobbs Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
12 48 31 17 2 1 2 0 1 0

Hobbs played the most defensive snaps for the Illini, and also dabbled a little bit in the return game. He had a solid freshman season on his way to being named to the BTN All-Freshman team.

Hobbs did struggle at times in 2017, but what freshman corner wouldn’t? He should be a starter again next season, and look to improve on his promising debut.

Chris James

Chris James Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
9 14 10 4 0.5 0 2 0 0 0

In his junior season with the program, James was again not able to break his way into the defense. He transferred after the season, and will be eligible to play right away as he is a fifth year transfer.

Harvey Clayton Jr.

Harvey Clayton Jr. Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
11 10 5 5 0.5 0 0 0 0 0

Clayton mostly was utilized on special teams, but he did make one start on defense against Indiana at safety. He has really good size at 6’ 2” 215 pounds, and while he probably won’t break into the starting lineup, he could see an increased role next season.

Patrick Nelson

Patrick Nelson Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
10 65 32 33 2.5 0.5 2 0 2 1

Nelson was a really solid player for Illinois in his two seasons with the program. I use was because Nelson decided to transfer after his sophomore season in 2017. Losing a starter always hurts, and it is no different with Nelson. But with the emergence of Bennett Williams alongside Stanley Green, Illinois may be alright at safety in the future.

Kyle Keuch

Keuch joined the team as a walk-on in the fall after being a member of the Illinois Wesleyan team the previous two season.

Frank Sumpter

Frank Sumpter Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
7 11 7 4 0 0 0 0 0 0

Sumpter was mostly used on special team in his sophomore season. He will provide depth for Illinois going forward.

Dawson DeGroot

Dawson DeGroot Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
7 13 4 9 0 0 0 0 0 0

DeGroot was another questionable pulled redshirt for Illinois. Despite making his debut in the USF game, DeGroot only saw action in seven games, and didn’t make much of an impact on the field.

Evan Jones

Evan Jones Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
2 6 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 0

Jones appeared in two games — largely with special teams — before he missed the last nine games with an injury. He has three years of eligibility left.

Ahmari Hayes

Ahmari Hayes Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
11 9 6 3 0 0 1 0 1 1

Hayes was a rotation player in his senior season after coming to Illinois as a juco recruit in 2016. He had a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown against Ohio State, which hey at least a few good things happened in that game.

Nolan Bernat

Bernat didn’t see the field in his sophomore season after coming to Illinois from a junior college — the College of DuPage.

Cameron Watkins

Cameron Watkins Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
12 39 24 15 3.5 0 4 1 1 0

I am a pretty big fan of Cameron Watkins myself. He started seven games and was a solid player all-around. He was a good option at nickle and corner, and I think he has a chance to solidify himself as a starter in his junior season in 2018.

Zac Holman

Holman didn’t see the field after joining the team as a walk-on in September of 2016.

Michael Marchese

Michael Marchese Defense 2017

Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
Games Played Tackles UA A TFL Sacks PD INT FF FR
5 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0

Marchese played in five games on special teams and forced a fumble on a punt against Purdue as a walk-on freshman. He is the younger brother of Illini linebacker Jim Marchese. His twin brother plays for Iowa however, and that just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Alec McEachern

McEachern didn’t see the field in his freshman season as a walk-on.