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Illini in the NFL: Wild Card Weekend

Six former Fighting Illini will be participating in the NFL playoffs this weekend.

Atlanta Falcons v Houston Texans Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The NFL playoffs get underway this weekend, and a handful of Illini are represented on the Wild Card round rosters. Here they are, in alphabetical order of their teams:


Buffalo Bills

Corey Liuget, defensive tackle: A 2011 first round pick of the San Diego Chargers, Liuget signed with the Oakland Raiders this offseason. He was released in October and picked up by the Bills in early November.

In limited action (10 games) with Oakland and Buffalo, Liuget has recorded 13 combined tackles and one sack.

Houston Texans

Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker/defensive end: While Corey Liuget’s career may be nearing its end, Mercilus continues to be a stalwart for the AFC South champions.

Now in his eighth season, the veteran pass rusher started all 16 games for the Texans. He finished with 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions.

Mercilus & his former teammate will be on opposing sidelines during Saturday’s Wild Card matchup, as the Texans host Liuget and the Bills at NRG Stadium (3:35 pm CT, ABC/ESPN).

New England Patriots

Ted Karras, center: Karras converted from right guard in 2019 and started 15 games for New England. A 2016 6th-round draft choice, Karras has been to the Super Bowl in each of his first three seasons, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy twice (2016, 2018).

Matt LaCosse, tight end: The 6-foot-6, 255-pound LaCosse made minimal impact in the NFL before breaking out with the Denver Broncos in 2018 (24 catches, 250 yards, 1 TD). He joined New England during the offseason.

The Naperville North alum started eight games for the Patriots, totaling 13 receptions for 131 yards and a TD.

New England hosts the Tennessee Titans Saturday night at 7:15 CT on CBS.

New Orleans Saints

Justin Hardee, defensive back/special teams: An undrafted free agent in 2017, Hardee was a wide receiver for the Illini before being switched to defensive back in the NFL.

Hardee has become a reliable special teamer for New Orleans, recording 11 tackles in 16 contests this season.

The NFC South champion Saints host the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday (12:00 pm, FOX).

Seattle Seahawks

Malik Turner, wide receiver: The final former Illini on this list, Turner appears to have a bright future in the Pacific Northwest.

In his second pro season, the 6-foot-2 wideout caught 15 passes for 245 yards, an impressive 16.3 yards per reception. Turner was also the beneficiary of this bit of razzle-dazzle, courtesy of Chris Carson & Russell Wilson:

Coincidentally, the Seahawks return to Philadelphia on Sunday to face the Eagles (3:40 pm CT, NBC). Perhaps more trickery will be on display.


Best of luck to all of these Illinois alumni and their respective squads.