A robin redbreast in a cage, puts all heaven in a rage. A wide receiver without a QB, needs a new offensive coordinator to be set free.
The first line is from William Blake, who was probably not thinking of Mike Dudek running free with Chayce Crouch or Jeff George Jr. at the helm. The second line is from me, and I’m still aggravated at the combination of Illinois quarterback play and Garrick McGee’s futile effort. Turn over the quarterback room and enter Rod Smith, from the Rich Rodriguez tree of explosive offenses and tempo, and future Illini wide receivers have a new outlook.
The tempo at which Smith aims to have Illini offenses moving lends itself well to explosive playmakers who can exploit confusion and defensive panting to shake and bake for extra yards and chunk plays. Mike Dudek is the perfect example of a guy who would cook in this offense, although this year is most likely his last and the learning curve of both offensive principles and the quarterback play could limit his potential. So even though Stock is in this article title, this wide receiver group is mostly aimed at future charts.
Ricky Smalling was the team’s leading receiver last season with 31 receptions and 510 yards. Considering he was a freshman and he was counted on to make ridiculous leaping grabs over defenders to snag awkward duck throws, that’s a sizable accomplishment.
Carmoni Green was the other highly rated freshman from last season, and he has the speed and strength to be another hard-to-handle receiver in space, but inconsistent route running and hands kept his freshman season to small sparks. Besides being kept down by the offense of last season, the impact of Illini freshmen didn’t do Green any favors by reputation, as fans and writers seem to overlook the fact that freshmen usually struggle in various areas. Ricky Smalling is the exception, not the rule.
An interesting offseason shift moved linebacker Justice Williams into the receiver group, where the 6-foot-3, 225-pound athlete can use tweener to his advantage. Spring reports were very positive, and Rod Smith had nothing but praise, but we’ll see where Williams nets out in the fall. He could become an Evan Engram-type weapon on the space and pace offense, or he could be a spring story that is overtaken by experienced receivers.
Very soon, Champaign will get a double dose of Florida speed when two promising freshman from the class of 2018 get to campus. Edwin Carter and Carlos Sandy are completely opposite in skill set, and should be able to share the field in the future as X and Y receivers.
Edwin Carter is the consummate outside receiver with length and great speed (Florida finalist in the 110 high hurdles). He’s the more raw of the two, and in the Sam Mays (still with the team) mold for body-type, but has the tools Andrew Hayes-Stoker looks for to stretch the field.
Carlos Sandy is your prototypical slot weapon, with a flair for the big play and a heaping dose of panhandle burners. From all the skill position highlight films of 2018, Sandy’s the one that makes you rewind. Sandy should see the field right away, and he should shadow Mike Dudek to learn the craft of a space finder.
Like last week’s Offensive Line Stock & Shop, you’ll notice this isn’t a litany of names and trust. There are some nice prospects out front, but not too many waiting in the wings, so the class of 2019 is again paramount to the rebuild.
Hayes-Stoker and Corey Patterson have teamed up to start the receiver class with Trinity Catholic’s Bryce Childress. Like Sandy, he’s not going to wow you when he gets off the bus (5-10, 180), and while fast, he’s not as fast as some of his Top-250 Trinity teammates. But, Childress is going to be open, all day. In Rod Smith’s offense, which is predicated on quick twitch and route precision, Childress is going to put up nice catch totals and move the chains. Similar to Danny Amendola with the Patriots, he’s going to keep the offense on the field. Illinois is also recruiting Childress’ teammate at Trinity, Marcus Washington, although reported beef between his father and some Illini staffers will probably prevent him from following The Movement to Champaign.
Much better odds lie with another St. Louis kid in Maurice Massey and Chicago’s Fabian McCray. Both are long receivers that would compete with Edwin Carter on the outside and use their basketball frames and length to stretch the field and make chunk plays. Massey in particular has started to pile up some impressive offers, but remains someone that Illinois has a good shot with. McCray has been rumored to favor Illinois, and to have come close to have pulled the commitment lever on a couple occasions with teammate Joseph Thompson already being committed, but something has held him back. He isn’t the type of kid Lovie will wait on forever, so his recruitment will unfold rapidly for Illinois over the next couple months.