We continue our series where we will review the performance of each Illinois player and see what might be in store for the Illini’s future.
We move onto a position that was marred with injuries in 2017. Let’s take a look at the running backs.
Reggie Corbin Rushing 2017
Reggie Corbin Receiving 2017
Hopes were high for Reggie Corbin after a very promising freshman year where he had 523 rushing yards on 6.1 yards per carry. He was expected to see a lot of carries as the second back.
But, that didn’t happen. Reggie Corbin only received 18 carries in 2017. Corbin missed the first three games with an injury, but after coming back he was passed up on the depth chart by Mike Epstein, Ra’Von Bonner, and Kendrick Foster.
Even as the Illinois running game struggled later in the year, Corbin still didn’t get his chance. It’s perplexing how after a good freshman year under Lovie Smith that Corbin was seemingly forgotten by the coaching staff. Corbin still have two years of eligibility left, but will have to fight with Epstein and Bonner for future playing time.
Ra’Von Bonner Rushing 2017
Ra’Von Bonner Receiving 2017
Ra’Von Bonner is a big and tough runner, but that’s about it. Bonner is a good grinding power back, but he isn’t the fastest nor does he have great elusiveness. He’s a great guy to have in a rotation, but he isn’t the best guy to have as the feature back — especially behind a subpar offensive line.
The true freshman led the Illini in carries (67) and rushing TDs (4), but only gained three yards per carry. A huge part of his low YPC is due to the offensive line doing him no favors, but part of it is on his lack of explosiveness. However, his tough running is valuable and he will be a part of the rotation next season.
Kendrick Foster Rushing 2017
Kendrick Foster Receiving 2017
Kendrick Foster became the second feature running back in a row for Illinois to go into a new season and tumble down the depth chart. After Ke’Shawn Vaughn struggled in 2016, Kendrick Foster received a heavy workload in his junior season on his way to 720 yards and 7 TDs on a healthy 5.7 yards per carry.
In 2017, it was a different outcome to say the least. Foster looked slower than he previously was and he was quickly passed up on the depth chart by both Epstein and Bonner, and even later Dre Brown.
Maybe there was an injury for Foster that we didn’t know about? Nevertheless it was a disappointing senior season for Foster after a breakout junior campaign. Hopefully this trend of Illinois running backs’ production falling apart after breakout years stops with Foster.
Dre Brown Rushing 2017
Dre Brown Receiving 2017
Hey! Dre Brown finally got onto the field!
Dre Brown was a big recruit in the 2015 class but he was sidelined for two years with ACL injuries. It was unknown if Brown would ever be a contributor for the Illini, but after some injuries to others ahead of him, Brown got his chance and played decently.
In the final two games of 2017 Brown carried the ball 27 times for 127 yards against Ohio State and Northwestern.
If Brown can stay healthy he should be a solid contributor for the Illini in his final two years of eligibility.
Mike Epstein Rushing 2017
Mike Epstein Receiving 2017
Mike Epstein was the leading rusher for Illinois in 2017 and he only played in five games. He missed the last seven games with an undisclosed knee injury.
In the limited time Epstein was on the field, he showed he has what it takes to be the feature back. Epstein has great speed and burst. He is a one cut, north-south runner who will finish runs behind his pads despite his smaller stature.
He averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and led the team with 84.8 all purpose yards. Epstein had the most promising freshman debut on offense for Illinois since Mike Dudek, even in his injury shortened year.
Epstein should have a productive three more years for Illinois if healthy.
Parker redshirted the 2017 season after joining the team as a walk-on in the fall.
Christian Bobak Rushing 2017
Christian Bobak Defense 2017
Bobak was primarily a special teams player for Illinois in his redshirt-freshman season. He had a very good senior year in high school with 1,133 yards and 12 TDs, but it seems unlikely he will be seeing a lot of playing time with the offense moving forward.
But, you always need good special teams players.
Hylton played five games in 2017, playing on special teams. He is a former safety who made the switch to running back this season. He has one year of eligibility left with Illinois.
Austin Roberts Rushing 2017
Austin Roberts played in all 12 games with one start. He was the main fullback when Illinois used one. He has one more year of football left with the Illini.
Roberts didn’t see the field in his senior season. He graduated in May of 2017 with a degree in communication, and got a start on grad school this fall.
Jones didn’t see the field in 2017. The redshirt freshman is listed as a RB despite his great size — 6’ 5”, 240 pounds. He started his career as a defensive end before moving to offense.