The level of success to which Illinois’ defense attains this year relies on the play of Tre Watson, the only starter returning in the Illini front seven. Luckily, they are in good hands with this junior linebacker.
Watson will be expected to be the leader of the linebacker core this year following the graduation of Hardy Nickerson Jr. He finished second to Nickerson in tackles last season, even though Watson did not step into a starter role until the beginning of Big Ten play.
In 2016, Watson had several games where he went OFF. The former All-Big Ten honorable mention had a season-high 16 tackles against Michigan State, and he followed that performance with 10 against Wisconsin and 15 tackles versus Iowa.
In short, Watson is the focal point of Illinois’ defense in 2017, and his big impact will be expected once again.
Watson finished the season tied for the lead in total tackles during Big Ten play, and it would be no surprise if his name is on top of that list again, alongside Indiana’s Tegray Scales. The Illini faithful should be excited to have a very productive linebacker in Watson.