One of the lone bright spots of the 2018 Fighting Illini defense was sophomore Jamal Woods. Unfortunately, like many good things the Illini find, this one came to an abrupt end. Woods suffered a season-ending knee injury after only appearing in four games.
If there is any silver lining to Woods’ sophomore season being cut short, it’s that he was eligible to use the entire season as a redshirt year and enter the 2019 season as a redshirt sophomore.
While he is primarily a defensive tackle, Woods flashed great versatility by lining up all over the four-man defensive front for the Illini last season. The Alabama native was scheduled to see a great deal of snaps in 2019 as one of the top five returning defensive lineman, but the injury to star DE Bobby Roundtree means that Lovie Smith will be leaning on Woods more heavily than expected.
During the first four games of the 2018 season, Woods was easily the most consistently disruptive player on the Illini’s seven-man front. In only four games, he racked up four tackles for loss and a sack, which ranked fifth and third, respectively, on the defense over the course of the entire season. Woods also ranked was tied for fifth on the team with three passes deflected in 2018 — an impressive stat for a DL with so few snaps.
The recruiting rankings did not rate Woods as highly as some of the other defensive lineman in Lovie’s past few recruiting classes, but his production and consistency has been near the top of that group since stepping on campus. Even as a true freshman he took advantage of the youth movement employed by Lovie Smith and ranked 15th in tackles and 10th in TFL for the young 2017 Illini defense.
With the Illinois defense already facing defensive line depth questions ahead of the season, it is imperative that Woods stays healthy and on the field for the duration of the 2019 campaign. His strength, speed and versatility will be incredibly important for the Illini to have a chance at disrupting opposing backfields and putting themselves in favorable downs and distances.
If Jamal Woods plays in at least 10 games this season, he has a great chance to lead the Illini defense in tackles for loss and/or sacks. The Illini desperately needs a consistent disruptor in the front four, and that’s why Lovie and the rest of Illini Nation are so excited to have Jamal Woods back in the fold.