Despite only one Illini hearing his name called out during the NFL Draft, a total of seven former members of the orange and blue have now signed with professional teams to try and further their careers in the NFL. Below is a recap of all the Illini NFL signees. We’ll update this post as more rookie free agent signings are announced.
UPDATE 5/2: Two more former Illini have been invited to NFL rookie mini-camp tryouts.
Michael Martin (UDFA) — New England Patriots
Thankful for the opportunity to attend rookie minicamp with the defending Super Bowl Champions:— Michael Martin (@MPMartin_56) May 2, 2017
The New England Patriots! pic.twitter.com/XhYbAWJ3Kp
Joe Spencer (UDFA) — Jacksonville Jaguars
Joe Spencer has 2nd official NFL tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars next weekend! GOOD LUCK & KEEP GRINDING! LGL!!!— Brian Castner (@CoachCastner) May 1, 2017
Dawuane Smoot (68th overall pick) — Jacksonville Jaguars
Smoot was the sole Illini to be drafted this year. While it came as a surprise to many that fellow defensive lineman Carroll Phillips didn’t hear his name called as well, Smoot was clearly the best available Illinois player in this year’s draft class. He should fit in nicely in Jacksonville, where their defense can use all the help they can get after being ranked 24th in the NFL last season. While he won’t get the chance to start right away, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said he’d be in line behind Calais Campbell at defensive end on their depth chart this fall. Look for the former Illini stud to see the field sooner rather than later in Jacksonville. You can read more about Smoot’s specific strengths and weaknesses right here.
Carroll Phillips (UDFA) — Jacksonville Jaguars
As if one Illini defensive player to the Jaguars wasn’t enough, here’s another! LB Carroll Phillips, despite not getting drafted, signed on very quickly following the draft’s conclusion with the Jaguars, joining his teammate Dawune Smoot in Florida. Perhaps Shahid Kahn, Jacksonville team owner and University of Illinois alum, had something to do with this.
Jacksonville must have a thing for Illini players. Can’t figure out why tho. pic.twitter.com/VFjh3k6T7r— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) April 30, 2017
It’s unclear what role Phillips might play on the Jacksonville D, but owner David Caldwell described him as “raw but competitive and disruptive.” You can read our in-depth breakdown of Phillips’ strengths and weaknesses right here.
Wes Lunt (UDFA) — Minnesota Vikings
Lunt wasn’t expected to go in the NFL draft, but many presumed he might be given a shot as a rookie free agent. The Vikings are a good spot for the former Illini QB to land; if Minnesota likes what it sees with Lunt, he could have a legitimate shot as the QB3 there in Minneapolis, with potential injuries to Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford requiring more backups than most other teams need. Lunt’s arm strength is a big plus, but he will need to improve on his accuracy and mobility in order to succeed in the NFL. One reason why the Vikings had such interest in Wes might be the fact that Minnesota quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski coached him at the East-West Shrine game earlier this year. Lunt will report to the Vikings practice stadium next week for rookie mini-camps.
Justin Hardee (UDFA) — Houston Texans
Justin Hardee persevered through several coaching changes and major injuries during his time in Champaign, but that didn’t stop him from getting noticed by several NFL teams after running a 4.35 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Hardee signed with the Texans after not hearing his name called during the draft, joining several former Illini in Houston including Whitney Mercilus, Jeff Allen and Jay Prosch. Hardee will not have an easy time working his way up the WR depth chart, as the Texans boast several weapons at that position in DeAndre Hopkins and Braxton Miller. Hardee will report to the team’s rookie mini-camp this coming week.
Hardy Nickerson Jr. (UDFA) — Cincinnati Bengals
Nickerson Jr. was another player that might’ve been expecting to hear his name called during the NFL Draft. Fortunately for Hardy, he was quickly signed following the draft’s conclusion. Initial reports had him joining the Los Angeles Rams, but then his father and current Illinois defensive coordinator tweeted out his congratulations to his son for signing with the Cincinnati Bengals. Nickerson Jr. joins a strong defense under Marvin Lewis, and while the All-Big Ten honoree won’t have an easy path to making the team roster, he’ll be given a solid opportunity in Cincinnati to make himself known.
Gimel President (UDFA) — Houston Texans
More rookie free agent signings were announced this morning, as Illinois defensive line coach Mike Phair tweeted out his congratulations for defensive end Gimel President signing with the Houston Texans. President didn’t see the field as much as he probably hoped to in his senior season at Illinois, but he still has some raw skill that NFL scouts liked to see. Looks like Illini fans will need to purchase some Jaguars and Texans gear this off-season.
Rob Bain (UDFA) — New York Jets
The latest Illini signing announced was defensive tackle Rob Bain to the New York Jets. He’ll certainly be a long shot to make the roster, but it’s good to see more and more former Illinois players getting shots at NFL rookie mini-camps.
This article will continue to be update as more signings are made public.