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The Law Firm is turning pro. Let’s appreciate them while they’re here.

Illinois stars Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph are heading to the NFL.

Illinois’s Jer’Zhan Newton (4) celebrates a sack with Keith Randolph (88)
TCR // Brad Repplinger

The Fighting Illini defense has two big voids to fill before the 2024 season.

On Tuesday, Illinois defensive tackles Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph, also known as the Law Firm, announced their intentions to enter the 2024 NFL d=Draft.

The decision was only a formality for Johnny Newton; he is among the best defensive players in the country, is a shoo-in to be a first-round pick, and has a great chance to go in the top-10 of the draft. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound fifth-year senior has 47 tackles and 5.5 sacks this season, and last year led the country in TFLs with 14.

He is a consensus top-3 DT in the draft class, with most putting him at No. 1. He had great games against elite OLs like Wisconsin and Penn State, and has blocked 4 field goals this season. He could easily make back-to-back years of Illini defensive players going top-10, after the Seattle Seahawks picked Devon Witherspoon fifth overall in 2023, and Spoon is on pace to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. The only concern with Newton, as he is dominant in every aspect on defense, is being a little shorter than the average DT.

The decision was a little more complicated for Keith Randolph. He’s missed some time with injury this season, and it’s hard to figure out exactly where his draft stock is right now; he could make it into Day 2, being a borderline top-10 DT in the class, but as of now is more likely an early Day 3 pick. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound redshirt junior is also an elite player, though; he has 45 tackles in just 9 games this season, and last year had 13 TFL and 4.5 sacks, right behind Newton. There was some talk of Randolph coming back for one more season with a big NIL package, but the injury risk might have proven too much to overcome.

The Law Firm of Newton and Randolph, provided they win this Saturday against Northwestern, will have gotten Illinois to three bowl games in five seasons, and only four full seasons if we discount the weird Covid year, and just barely missed on a bowl in Bret Bielema’s first season.

They came in as 3-star Lovie Smith recruits, intending to improve a program that hadn’t had much success since the early 1990s. They stayed after Lovie Smith’s firing, getting developed by Bret Bielema, Ryan Walters, and others. They nearly got Illinois a West division title last year, and took them to the Reliaquest Bowl at 8-4, the best season for Illinois football in 15 years. They beat Wisconsin and Iowa in the same season for the first time in decades.

Even when Illinois has lost, they’ve lost close games to other Big Ten teams instead of being the usual doormat. While there’s still a ways to go for this program, the Law Firm have definitely gotten it on the right trajectory, regardless of this Saturday’s result, just by making themselves household names in the NFL Draft.

The two got an invite to the Senior Bowl, as did OL Isaiah Adams. There, they can raise their stock the same way Illinois DBs did last season, en route to going early in the draft. We’ll see if the pair decide to play in a potential bowl game (it seems like Newton won’t), but they’ll be trying to get Illinois there with a rivalry win over Northwestern.

Senior Day on Saturday will be emotional. Good luck to Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph in their NFL days.