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James Crawford: Defensive Playmaker

The versatile senior anchored the Illini defense in 2017

Nebraska v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Fighting Illini football is no stranger to plucking talent out of Florida, and James Crawford is certainly one of the better Floridians to take the field for the Illini in recent memory.

In 2017, Crawford was a bastion of consistency and reliability during a season that was fraught with inexperience and mistakes. He led the Illini in tackles for loss with 5.5, and he tied for the team lead in sacks (4.0), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). Crawford also led the Big Ten with 0.33 forced fumbles per game, which was good for seventh in the nation.

The 2017 Defensive MVP clearly had forcing fumbles down to a science:

He isn’t kidding when he says that he’s “played it all,” as he was recruited out of high school to be a safety at Illinois. Crawford then amazingly came full circle, playing the DB/LB-hybrid STAR position in the Tim Banks defense, while later moving to linebacker in 2016, and finally finishing his Illini career as a successful defensive end in 2017.

Crawford’s versatility is tied to his athleticism, which was on full display during this past season. The senior leadership that he provided will no doubt prove valuable to the evolution of younger defensive linemen like Bobby Roundtree, Isaiah Gay, Owen Carney and others. With luck, the talent and flexibility that he displayed throughout his Illini career should also put him in position to play on Sundays in the near future.