There is some legitimate speed being added to this Illinois football team in 2019.
It's something that's been lacking for the Illini, and it was good to see an emphasis made on upgrading the overall expeditiousness.
Nowhere has that been more prevalent than in the offensive backfield. Of course, it starts with the most important position on the field.
Number one on the field. Number one in your hearts. One of the best recruiting coups for Illinois maybe ever. He brings a talent level rarely seen in Memorial Stadium. As National Analyst for 247 sports Steve Wiltfong put it, "one of the most devastating athletes in the country", he ain't wrong.
He'll immediately add competition to a position that is slowly building some impressive depth. Expectations are tough to nail down for a freshman who hasn't played a down yet. But it's always fun to speculate.
*Best Case Scenario: Pat White*
It's not that far off a comparison. Both quarterbacks were seen to be too undersized. Should probably switch positions. Natural gifts, but not enough confidence in decision-making, blah blah blah...
It didn't seem to bother Pat White, the record-setting quarterback from West Virginia who's career record of 35-8 is sixth in NCAA history. He also set the total rushing yardage record for quarterbacks (4,480), which was broken by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Guess who coached both of those quarterbacks? Rod Smith, Illinois' offensive coordinator. Sure, they weren't amazing at passing the ball, but they didn't have to be. And neither does Williams, and he has higher upside as a passer than Robinson already.
*Floor: Nathan Scheelhaase*
What a floor, right? If he's anything like Scheelhaase, we'll be very fortunate. A four year starter who leads us to two bowl games and cracks the top 10 in school history for rushing yards would be a fantastic career for an Illinois quarterback. Scheelhaase led some exciting offenses and put up some big numbers and made Illinois fun to watch.
Realistically, Williams career will fall somewhere in between. Maybe not all-world like Kyler Murray or Johnny Manziel, but a better, more athletic version of Scheelhaase with the same intangibles off the field. That would be a fantastic outcome for Illinois.
Running back was not a huge need for this class. However, the offensive staff seemed to see something in Fedanzo, a runner from Montini Catholic who has one cut and go ability as a back, but who's big enough and has solid enough hands to be a complete RB. I think you can guess who his comp will be if you watch his highlight reel.
*Best Case Scenario: Mike Epstein, uninjured
Epstein is the kind of running back Illinois needs. A downhill, one-cut runner who has tremendous hands to boot.
When healthy, Epstein has been the most effective back on the roster, even with Reggie Corbin's breakout last year. He averages over 6 yards per carry, and his cutting ability is preternatural. He makes some subtle shifts in his runs, and he's gone.
Unfortunately, those shifts have wreaked havoc on his feet.
Fedanzo has very similar traits. He's not a burner, but his footwork and body control are on par with Epstein, and he produced at a high level his senior year. He also hasn't been hit by the injury bug quite as hard. A tough, durable runner with no previous health scares? Yes please.
*Floor: Epstein, broken and under-utilized.
Unfortunately, with such shiftiness comes stress on certain parts of the lower body. With Epstein, it's his feet. Stress fractures and broken bones have become commonplace, and even before he injured himself last year, the staff treated him as if he were made of glass.
For good reason. But those kind of problems can be endemic of these styles of running backs. Let's just hope Fedanzo can stay on the field, because the talent is there for him to be an every down back.
Realistically, injuries won't be as problematic for Fedanzo, and he'll have a nice, solid career as a change of pace back and will add to the overall depth of the position.
Speed, speed, speed. Speed is what we need. Greasy, fast speed. That is what Cumby brings to the table. In spades.
*Best Case Scenario: the answer to the slot quandary*
This would be ideal. After the Jeff Thomas fiasco, it would be nice to establish someone in the slot receiver position. I know, these are running backs. However, Cumby's slight frame might not hold up under the rigors of an every down back. Why not use that natural speed and pass catching ability to your advantage? Cumby can fly, and in my opinion, he'll be a fan favorite after all is said and done. As a back, he reminds me of Josh Ferguson.
*Floor: injury prone.
One problem with smaller backs: injuries. Let's hope they don't bite, but it's gotta be in the back of your mind
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