Today we’ll take a look at a position with many new arrivals and a lot of competition for playing time for Illinois — wide receivers.
Dominic Thieman - #8 SO, 6’ 3”, 190 lbs
He broke his ankle after eight games played last season as a true freshman. He is very athletic — he was the triple jump state champion in Florida — and could be one of the young players to take a step up this season.
Sam Mays - #9 JR, 6’ 3”, 200 lbs
Mays scored the game winning touchdown against Michigan State in 2016. The big receiver out of Texas has not had much production for Illinois in his first two seasons. He appears to be in line for a lot more playing time, but there are plenty of young players ready to compete behind him.
Malik Turner - #11 SR, 6’ 3”, 200 lbs
Malik Turner was an All-Big Ten Honorable mention by the media in 2016. Turner is the most talented WR on the Illini, and he is the best deep threat. He has improved every year for Illinois, and has NFL talent. He will need to work on his consistency and his hands in order to reach his full potential, and be the true number one WR every team needs.
Trenard Davis - #15 SO, 6’ 0”, 195 lbs
Davis was listed in our QB preview as he was listed as a QB at time of writing. It now appears the versatile player will move to WR full time after practicing at safety, wide receiver and quarterback.
Mike Dudek - #18 JR, 5’ 11”, 185 lbs
Let’s be clear, Mike Dudek was phenomenal in his freshman season. He led the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards during conference play in 2014. He was a Freshman All-American and set the record for most receiving yards for an Illini freshman.
That being said, after missing two straight seasons with two torn ACLs — and two ACL surgeries — we may not see that level of production out of Dudek this season. Rehab for ACL injuries seemingly gets better and better each year, so it is not impossible to see Dudek return to top form. It just shouldn’t be the expectation for fans this year.
But, he will have a huge role to play in the offense this season. Illinois has not had a dependable possession WR during Dudek’s absence, and his return now can be a huge help to Chase Crouch. He and Malik Turner could form a productive WR tandem for offensive coordinator Garrick McGee.
Ricky Smalling - #4 FR, 6’ 1”, 195 lbs, Chicago, IL
Smalling was rated a 4 star recruit by Rivals, ESPN and Scout and one of the first big recruits for Lovie Smith. He missed the first few days of practice due to what the team described as “personal reasons”, but he has now joined the team in full practice. He will compete for playing time right away.
Carmoni Green - #5 FR, 6’ 1”, 190 lbs, Miami, FL
The run of great Illinois running backs wearing number 5, and should have been better running backs in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, is now over. Green, who was a 4 star recruit according to Rivals, won a state title in Florida his junior season in 2014. The future may be bright for this class of wide receivers with Smalling and Green leading the way.
Kendall Smith - #17 FR, 6’ 1”, 185 lbs, Bolingbrook, IL
One of the first commits of the Lovie Smith era. Smith may be able to find some playing time, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team save a season and give him a redshirt.
Shawn McPartland - #25 R-FS, 5’ 10”, 175 lbs, Lemont, IL
A freshman walk-on.
Keith Jones - #80 R-FR, 6’ 0”, 150 lbs, Chicago, IL
Walked onto the team during 2017 Spring Ball.
William DuPont - #82 FR, 6’ 0”, 185 lbs, St. Louis, MO
DuPont is not your typical freshman WR, given that he graduated High School in 2012. Oh, and he also played professional baseball for 5 years after deciding to turn down Mississippi State’s offer in order to play in the minor leagues.
This isn’t unheard of, Brandon Weeden played minor league baseball for a few years before becoming Oklahoma State’s QB, but DuPont — unlike others — isn’t making this transition because of injury. He simply wants to play football again.
Sadly for Illinois Baseball fans, DuPont cannot play for Dan Hartleb as well, but his maturity could be helpful to Lovie Smith and this large group of freshman WRs.
James Bartholomew - #84 FR, 5’ 8”, 160 lbs, Hilton Head, SC
Walk-on who also played baseball in High School.
Yomade Adefeso - #87 R-FR, 6’ 0”, 200 lbs, Skokie, IL
Strong contender for toughest name to pronounce on the Illinois Football team.
Illinois should be improved at WR this season with the return of Mike Dudek to pair with Malik Turner. Turner providing the home run threat, while Dudek gives a more quick hitting option could be a huge help to new starting QB Chayce Crouch.
While the top options for Illinois look good, behind Dudek and Turner, competition for playing time is wide open. Freshmen Smalling and Green have the chance to see the field a lot this season, while Mays and Theiman will have their chances as well. It’s uncertain who will be the third and fourth options right now, but it will be clearer after the first few games.