Remember when we as Illini fans used to get all excited when we’d see one of Lovie Smith’s assistant coaches tweet something to the effect of “THE COLUMNS ARE HOT”?
Well this time, the Twitter beacon signaling an imminent commitment came from current Illinois class of 2023 commit Antwon Hayden.
Anotha one‼️— Antwon “Jojo” Hayden (@AntwonHayden) December 18, 2022
And sure enough, a few hours later, we received the news that JUCO cornerback Kaleb Patterson from Pearl River Community College had committed to the Illini.
A native of Byram, Mississippi, Patterson comes to Champaign with three more years of eligibility left after playing his freshman season with Pearl River. In his one season with the Wildcats, Patterson accumulated 12 tackles (10 solo), 2 forced fumbles, and 4 pass breakups over a total of 9 games played. That performance was good enough to warrant a First Team All-MACCC recognition.
Patterson chose Illinois over offers from the Indiana Hoosiers and a host of G5 programs, including Appalachian State and Memphis.
The Illini defensive backfield will provide opportunities to Patterson for immediate playing time in 2023, as Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon will be departing the college ranks after making their long-anticipated — but now official — NFL Draft declarations.
Expect Patterson to play a similar role to the one filled by senior Illini CB Terrell Jennings in the 2022 season. Jennings also transferred to Illinois from a lower-level program and was able to contribute immediately by playing in 9 games and making 10 tackles (9 solo, 1 big TFL against the Iowa Hawkeyes) during his injury-shortened year. Patterson is likely to see the field in 2023, and his experience at the junior college level gives him a realistic shot at making starts next year.
At 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds, Patterson is a bit taller than most of the cornerbacks now on the roster at Illinois, and he physically resembles current Illini Kendall Smith a bit. Since he’s enrolling early, he’ll take part in spring practice and will have about 9 months of strength and conditioning training with Tank Wright. I suspect his playing weight will be closer to 200 pounds by next fall.
On film, Patterson displays solid instincts and technique in pass protection, but based on the film that I have access to, I’m not seeing as much of his run defense and block shedding abilities. In the Big Ten, he’ll often be asked to cover receivers alone on bubble screens and shed blocks to get into the backfield against opposing running backs. Those skills will be essential to his success in conference play.
Overall, Kaleb Patterson is a great pickup from a quality junior college program that has a history of producing power-five talent. I’m excited to see how he’ll ultimately be utilized in the spring game and as the upcoming season progresses.
Welcome to the Illini, Kaleb!