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Grading the fits for the Illini heading to the NFL

What’s the ceiling for everyone as a rookie?

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Illinois had three players get picked in this year’s NFL Draft, and another handful signed with teams as undrafted free agents.

Here’s a look at what everyone’s ceiling in as a rookie in 2022.

Kerby Joseph - CB - Detroit Lions

The Lions got a steal, taking Kerby Joseph at the end of the third round. Joseph was a ball hawk for the Illini in 2022 and should be competing for a starting spot on the Lions roster. Joseph should be able to ease into playing time as he learns the NFL game and the Lions' defensive scheme this season.

The sky is the limit for Kerby. Starting only one season for the Illini, Joseph was already the top-rated defensive back in the nation. As he grows into his position, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Fields and Kirk Cousins should watch out for his lockdown and playmaking abilities.

Seeing Joseph on this year’s Hard Knocks will be a treat.

Vederian Lowe - OT - Minnesota Vikings

Lowe has played a lot of games for the Illini. Lowe, alongside Alex Palczewski and Doug Kramer, has been a stalwart of the Illinois offensive line for the last 5 years. Lowe brings physicality, the skills, and the leadership needed to be successful at the NFL level. The ceiling for him would be as a backup tackle, but he should be on the Viking roster in the fall as a rookie.

Doug Kramer - C - Chicago Bears

Kramer is the third offensive linemen drafted from Illinois' top-15 rushing offense from 2018. Kendrick Green starts in Pittsburgh, Lowe was drafted to Minnesota, and Palcho will follow in their footsteps next year. The Hinsdale native has a chance to play for his hometown team.

Kramer is a lunch pail, gritty kind of guy which makes up for his lack in size. But you can train size. You can’t train grit. Looking at the needs of the Bears, Kramer is a great fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kramer is the backup center as a rookie. With the state of the Bear’s offensive line, I wouldn't be surprised if Kramer gets non-garbage playing time.

Undrafted

Tony Adams - DB - New York Jets

Adams was looked at by the Niners, the Bengals, and the Colts before signing with the Jets. I believe Adams will be able to compete for a spot on the Jets roster this fall. But this year, his ceiling is a backup role, if not, the practice squad.

Jake Hansen - LB - Houston Texans

Jake Hansen joins ex-Illini coach Lovie Smith and OLB Whitney Mercilus in Houston. The linebacker room is full with Alabama LB Christian Harris being drafted. Luckily, Lovie knows what he is getting with Hansen and can help him adjust to the NFL game.

James McCourt - K - Los Angeles Chargers

McCourt should actually be able to compete for place-kicking duties for the Chargers. Kickers change all the time, depending on who’s hot at the moment. McCourt has a strong leg, and while he may be a backup for Dustin Hopkins, I wouldn’t be surprised if McCourt got a few NFL placekicks this year.

Brandon Peters - QB - Los Angeles Chargers

The last Illini QB to be signed to an NFL team was Kurt Kittner in 2002. And Peters has the chance to do something no Illinois QB has done in the last 20 years: make an NFL roster in the fall.

The Chargers have their starting star QB Justin Herbert, so Peters getting signed was the biggest surprise of all.

Rod Perry II - DL - Cleveland Browns / Owen Carney Jr. - DL - Miami Dolphins / Khalan Tolson - LB - Carolina Panthers

Perry, Carney, and Tolson join rosters with deep benches in their respective positions. How well they understand the playbook and how they develop in camp will be crucial for their stays on NFL rosters.

Illinois had 10 players sign onto NFL rosters for fall camp. This is 5 more players than last year and 10 more than 2020. If this is what Bret Bielema can do in Year 1, I’m excited to see what Bret can do in the next few years.

Wish our Illini the best in their NFL careers.