The goal of any major college football program is to help its players to the NFL, and Illinois — and it’s experienced coaching staff — is no different. Here are all of the former Illini that made a 53-man roster for 2017, including players on practice squads.
Jeff Allen, OL Houston Texans
Allen will be a starter again for the Houston Texans in his sixth NFL season. He played in three preseason games.
Arrelious Benn, WR Jacksonville Jaguars
Benn will begin his seventh NFL season as a starter — and special teams captain — for the Jags. He played in three preseason games but had zero receptions.
Vontae Davis, CB Indianapolis Colts
Davis injured his groin in the third preseason game against the Steelers and is expected to be out a few weeks. The Colts will look for a strong replacement to start for their top corner.
Clayton Fejedelem, LB Cincinaiti Bengals
Fej led the Bengals last season in snaps during special teams and is most likely to have a bigger role on the defense with a few starters injured to start the season for the Bengals.
Michael Hoomanawanui, TE New Orleans Saints
Hoomanawanui will begin as the number-two tight end on the Saints depth chart this year in his eighth season. He was on injured reserve for the Saints last season.
Matt Lacosse, TE New York Giants
After missing all of the 2016 season with a knee injury, the 2015 undrafted free agent will rejoin the Giants’ roster. Lacosse had two touchdown catches in last week’s game.
Corey Liuget, DT Los Angeles Chargers
Even after a pretty disappointing season last year, Liuget will begin his seventh season as a starter. He played mediocre in limited minutes during three preseason games, registering only two total tackles.
Whitney Mercilus, OLB Houston Texans
Mercilus will start in his sixth pro season. He didn’t register any stats during his three preseason games he played in, but he was playing limited minutes.
Hardy Nickerson Jr., LB Cincinnati Bengals
Nickerson Jr. put his work in as an undrafted free agent and landed himself a roster spot. Vontaze Burfict’s suspension opened up the roster spot for the current Illinois defensive coordinator’s son. He needs to plays well on special teams or any opportunity he has during defensive snaps in order to have a shot to keep his spot.
Jay Prosch, FB Houston Texans
Another former Illini and current Texan starter. This will be his fourth NFL season and will continue to be the lead blocker for Texans running backs this season. He had no rushing attempts in the preseason.
Duwaune Smoot, DE Jacksonville Jaguars
Smoot was inactive for a few preseason games, but the third-round draft pick made the 53-man roster. He will be a backup defensive end to start the season for the Jaguars.
Akeem Spence, DT Detroit Lions
Spence will be rotating into the Lions newly formed defesnive lineman group. This will his fifth season in the NFL. He had four tackles, which included one sack, during the preseason.
Jihad Ward, DL Oakland Raiders
Ward will be entering his second NFL season after off-season shoulder surgery. He will be looking to continue off his very productive rookie campaign. Ward had three tackles during the preseason.
Tavon Wilson, S Detroit Lions
Wilson will be the starting safety for the Lions this year. He enters his sixth season coming off a preseason where he had three tackles and one pass deflection.
Practice Squad Members
Teddy Karras, New England Patriots
Carroll Phillips, Jacksonville Jaguars
Gimel President, Houston Texans