Well, this is new. Who would have thought so many prospects would take advantage of the early signing period and get their decisions and signatures out of the way?Certainly not the coaches, as evidenced by the lack of mid-major flips and percentage of top talent already signed. But, there are still some pretty big fish left in the sea, and Illinois needs to land a few more to complete the 2018 class.
Illinois doesn’t release official numbers of still available scholarships, something the tight-lipped Lovie is dead on about. Don’t let other schools, big and small, know the exact number of kids you’ll be taking. For this exercise, I’m anticipating five additional February signees.
There seems to be a definite hierarchy emerging amongst prospects, but with Lovie recruiting new coaches and a quiet period shrouding our piercing recruiting gaze, that flowchart between targets A-Z is limited.
What I can tell you is the coaches are scouring for playmakers, on the defense that’s manifesting itself through linebackers and safeties, and on the offense that’s speed and fluidity at receiver.
And because we’re playing in Lovie’s space, it seems only right to discuss the two big defensive prospects first. And while depth at defensive end is something to watch, the staff wasn’t able to secure any of their top targets for the position, and unless an Isaiah Gay is on the horizon, I don’t anticipate them taking any Plan-D types there for development. Instead, there are big-time athletes up for grabs at linebacker, and Illinois has a good shot at two guys in particular.
Dayven Coleman - LB/S
Coleman is the type of football player that Brad Underwood would appreciate. Position-less football isn’t quite in vogue yet, but that’s why Illinois has a shot at a player with Coleman’s talents. While he’s undersized for linebacker, and under ranged for safety, Coleman fits perfectly as a hybrid athlete that can make plays on the outside. Getting athletes that can make plays in space was all the rage for the spread, but, getting athletes that can make plays on defense is naturally as important - and from what Illinois saw this year, they’re easily gouged on crossing routes.
Will Coleman sign with Illinois?
Yes, I believe that Illinois will be the eventual landing place for Coleman’s talents. During the early signing day, Coleman announced that he’s made his choice and won’t entertain other interest, but will be announcing in February. Illinois was the last visit (a good sign), and he’s friends with the Texas signees.
Merlin Robertson - LB
Calvin Avery is the gem of the class so far, and some recruiting services have Robertson ranked right up there with Avery - so that’s the type of stud Lovie and Hardy Nickerson can potentially add to this class. Robertson would take this 2018 class and cover up a lot of the black eyes suffered in-state and in St. Louis. If those closest to the program aren’t coming to Champaign, grabbing 4-star All-American’s from California makes up the difference. While Coleman is on the smaller side for linebacker (and perfect for outside), Robertson is prototypical Big Ten linebacker size at 6-3, and 240 pounds; built for taking on blocks and punishing ballcarriers behind the defensive line.
Will Robertson sign with Illinois?
Eh, I think the window is closing. Robertson’s name popped up just before the early signing period, and Illinois was pushing to get him on campus. I think the staff understood that was their chance to land a stud before the Top-25 type programs reshuffled their recruiting deck and found Robertson’s recruitment open. Merlin was a guy that received plenty of praise for his play at the Under Armour All-American Game, so he’s bound to see his number of suitors increase. Robertson should be taking an official visit in the near future, and we should find out how serious he is about Illinois shortly after.
On to the offense, where it looks bleak.
Nikko Hall - WR
More Cali recruiting, and this time on offense. Nikko Hall has been a name long associated with Illinois 2018 recruiting efforts and for good reason. Hall possesses ideal size and speed, but what stands out most about Hall is his body control when a ball is in the air.
Will Hall sign with Illinois? Probably not. Hall just received an offer from Florida and is picking up that type of full-court press options after signing day. Yeah, early signing day held off some bigger programs, but those prospects that waited are being rewarded.
John Jackson - WR
With similar size and ability to Hall and a high school teammate of Merlin Robertson, Jackson was a prime target to fill out the playmaking quota. But alas, Jackson didn’t visit Illinois earlier and now
Will Jackson sign with Illinois?
No. But, Illinois might have to play against Jackson when Scott Frost charms him into attending Nebraska.
I’m positive that a couple of the remaining signees will be on this side of the ball, but as of what’s available and public now, I’m guessing they’ll end up being James Kirkland specials rather than already known commodities.