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Pigskin Crootin' Roundup

MJ Rivers Adds to Illini Quarterback Haul in 2018

Ball State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

New Commit: Well this seems familiar, writing about a lightly recruited dual-threat quarterback in a 6-4 frame with good athleticism. MJ Rivers from Frisco, TX is the latest to throw his hat in the ring to be the heir to Garrett McGee’s offense. Rivers is a 3-star quarterback with a big arm and a nice tight motion, and after watching his film, he is probably the preferred quarterback option in the Illini 2018 class next to wildcard commit Coran Taylor.

Who did we beat? Iowa State and New Mexico

First Take: Rivers has a very similar build to current Illini quarterback Chayce Crouch. Everyone remember the days of Tim Tebow spreading the ball out at Florida and automatically moving the chains on 3rd and short? Rivers has a similarly massive build and runs heavy. Some big guys can run the football but not pop back linebackers on contact; Rivers sheds defensive backs like gnats and linebackers fall backward upon his contact. As this 2017 season progresses I assume (hopefully) that we’ll see Crouch run more, taking advantage of his greatest strength. He’s a tremendously powerful and competitive athlete. With the addition of three dual-threat quarterbacks in 2018, and Cam Thomas in 2017, it’s apparent McGee and Lovie want to play 11 on 11 football and keep the quarterback a running option.

Second Take: He’s got a very strong arm, but isn’t an advanced passer yet. Duh, he’s in high school. But still, this is another quarterback that would take a lot of grooming to be more than an athlete behind center. Throughout his film he makes some “wow” throws, especially on the run, but most of those “wow” plays are backyard football ad-libs. And don’t underestimate the importance of being able to take advantage of backyard football -- Pat Mahommes was just a first-round pick on backyard football plays, but they aren’t sustainable for a Lovie Smith-coached team because they do lead to mistakes.

In Summation: Illinois didn’t land a quarterback that can safely project as a redshirt freshman starter, so they’re playing the odds and grabbing a few with plus tools and will see who develops.

The Apple of My Eye: Thinking of Calvin Avery’s impact in a defensive tackle rotation with Kendrick Green, Tymir Oliver and Jamal Milan have me all sorts of giddy. I don’t even want to get into the defensive line maturing as a whole -- it’s only a Tuesday. Out of all those guys I just mentioned, Avery might be the greatest combination of them all with Green’s quickness, Oliver’s strength and Milan’s disruptiveness.

The Steal: After watching a couple weeks of highlights I’m going to switch this up from Braeden Daniels to offensive lineman Jordan Slaughter. After the Jordan Goodwin basketball fiasco, Belleville Althoff owed the Illini a favor and it’s being delivered in the form of Slaughter. Although young for his grade, Slaughter is a true 6-5, 290 late-blooming offensive tackle. Without another committable power-5 offer, Slaughter jumped at Illinois early and it could be a blessing. He’s a road-grader in the run game, but has quick enough feet and hips to develop into a solid tackle in college.

If Illinois’ current crop of freshmen is teaching us anything, it’s that there are some guys in that football facility that can recognize talent and really not care one bit who else is recruiting the prospect. Isaiah Gay might be the story of the class, and Illinois came through on the last day to steal him from Elon.

The Dream: My original GUY to the 2018 class was linebacker Ayodele Adeoye. I stopped talking about him when he hurt my feelings, moved to IMG Academy from the St. Louis area, and spurned Lovie Smith and Hardy Nickerson for the University of Texas. So, why is Adeoye back in my recruiting dreams? Because from relative obscurity he showed up to Champaign to watch the Western Kentucky game. What he saw was a suffocating defense, made up mostly by guys he could play with for three years. Adeoye was reportedly very interested in Illinois, and had them second to Texas because of the Illini coaching staff’s NFL pedigree. That hasn’t changed, so maybe a touch of IMG Florida homesickness is making my GUY reconsider going all the way down to Austin, Texas for college.