Illinois football has started to create a name for itself in the NFL ranks, and the nation has started to take notice.
Not only are our former favorites starting, but they are making an impact on their NFL teams. We all saw this Monday night as Tommy DeVito led a game-winning drive to beat the Packers on ABC.
Having an Illinois quarterback start a game in the NFL is a rarity. Having an Illinois QB go 3-1 is even more of a rarity in the NFL. The pedigree of NFL-ready quarterbacks isn't particularly strong for the Illini. Sure, Juice Williams and Wes Lunt had opportunities to go pro, but they never made any rosters. Nathan Scheelhaase went a different direction, which has led to success in the coaching ranks.
But, as we all know, you need to go back 20 years to find an Illinois quarterback on an NFL roster.
Here is the list of all Illinois QBs in the NFL to show you just how crazy this ride has been for Devito.
- 2003 — Kurt Kittner — QB record: 1-3
- 1990 - 2004 — Jeff George — 46-78
- 1986 - 1995 — Jack Trudeau — 19-30
- 1983 - 1990 — Tony Eason — 28-23
- 1981 - 1988 — Dave Wilson — 12-19
- 1977 — Mike Wells — 0-0
- 1970 — Bob Naponic — 0-0
- 1964 - 1972 — Mike Taliaferro — 11-21
- 1953 - 1961 — Tommy O’Connell — 11-8
- 1948 — Perry Moss — 0-0
In the modern era of the NFL, no quarterback from Illinois has been as game-ready as DeVito. And his heroics almost never happened.
Behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, the Giants had allowed 69 sacks before going into Monday night’s game. Two starting quarterbacks were injured behind this Swiss cheese of an offensive line before DeVito got the nod.
Since then, DeVito has led the Giants quarterbacks in touchdowns, touchdown percentage, yards per pass, yards per catch, yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, and has the fewest amount of interceptions when passing over 100 times. In fact, the only interceptions DeVito threw were against the Raiders. In that game he came off the bench after playing on the practice team all week.
One of those interceptions was to a former Illini: Nate Hobbs.
Which brings me to my main point.
The Illini have 21 players on NFL rosters; Bret Bielema coached 10. Of those players, seven have significant roles on their current rosters.
Bielema is not only building a roster that can play with the best teams in college football, but they can prove it at the next level — and they are sending more in the 2024 Draft.
Johnny Newton will be a first-round pick. Keith Randolph will find his role on an NFL roster. As will offensive linemen Isaiah Adams and Julian Pearl. Even Casey Washington has a chance should he choose to go pro.
Illinois will never be the school that attracts NFL-ready talent directly from high school. But Illinois will be that development program that churns out tough, smart, dependable NFL-ready players.
That’s the sell for the program.
Sure, some of that was lost in 2023. But that team was young. It lacked the experience and depth of 2022, and it showed when the team was put in tough scenarios.
But this roster is rebuilding.
Illinois has brought in transfer depth and will continue to do so over the next few weeks. It’s bringing in talent that Bielema and Co. can coach up and mold the players into the archetype we have seen out of Champaign in the last few years.
These last few classes are just the start of the pipeline. Bielema recruits like Gabe Jacas, Matthew Bailey, and Josh Kreutz, and Bielema developments like Seth Coleman, Isaiah Williams, and Luke Altmyer all have chances to show scouts they are ready for the NFL.
I know at TCR, we focus on college ball all the time, but it's pretty freaking awesome to see the players we all cared about so much every Saturday get their chance to shine in the NFL.
Look, I'm glad that they intro Tommy as being from Illinois, but I'd be ok if they introduced him as being from Jersey to get an even bigger pop. Same thing as Ayo being introduced as being from Chicago for the Bulls. https://t.co/g25Ukz1cHa— Michael Martin (@MPMartin_56) December 12, 2023
The way Illini nation has embraced this rise is something special, and something DeVito and his family know is possible because of his time in Champaign.
I am here for Tommy Cutlets.
Fat Sandwich, your move.