The 90 Illini - 70 ~ 66

Jul 07, 2017

Hey look at that I'm already behind. I'm certain that no one reading this is surprised. I have a couple long flights here, so this is me hoping that I can used those flights and get a lot of writing done. Of course, I didn't charge my laptop battery all the way, so… yeah.

70. Cam Thomas

6'-2", 190 lbs.
Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Marian Catholic High School / Chicago Heights, Illinois

What I Know About Him

High school quarterback statistics are weird. It's maybe the only position where your statistics don't matter all that much. Well, wide receiver is somewhat similar (if a guy didn't have a quarterback who could throw more than 15 yards in high school he's not going to have the best statistics), but teams won't recruit a defensive end who didn't have any sacks in high school, or a tailback who had very few rushing yards. They will, however, recruit a quarterback who has a certain skillset but no high school statistics to back it up.

That's the main thing I "know" about Cameron Thomas. His high school statistics were really poor. He played on a 2-8 Marian Catholic team and, if his film is any indication, was pretty much running for his life on nearly every snap because the line blocking for him was… interesting. So while some may balk at recruiting a quarterback who had games like "completed 3 of 7 passes for 41 yards", college recruiters will sometimes see an arm and a release (and some feet) that they can work with (while the kid at State Champ High who threw for 3,000 yards on a superteam doesn't even get a Division III offer)

What I Expect From Him

That said, ours was the only coaching staff to see these things in Cameron Thomas. So while a few of the scouts really liked him, a lower-ranked quarterback with no real offers has a long hill to climb to get to "starting Big Ten quarterback" at the top.

Which means I that I expect a certain redshirt here. We'll next hear from Cameron Thomas in the spring of 2019 when the quarterback spot is likely open. So that's a lot of scout team and "lead the third-string offense out on the field to get destroyed by the starting defense" between now and then.

Why list him #70 and not #89 on this list? Because he's the third string quarterback entering the season. And one only has to look at last year when we started our third-string quarterback for four games (five?) to know that sometimes, with QB injuries, that third string guy gets forced into action. Hopefully not, and hopefully he can redshirt and learn some things while down on the third string, but there's always a chance he'll be needed.

69. Ra'Von Bonner

Running Back
5'-11", 220 lbs
Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Sycamore High School / Cincinnati, Ohio

What I Know About Him

FACT: All players from Steve Hull High become great at Illinois. OK, yes, Bud Golden didn't, but STEVEHULL certainly did (especially in 2013 when he switched to receiver). Therefore, using math, Ra'Von Bonner will be awesome once he reaches his senior season.

Bonner was one of those "senior film >>>> junior film" guys. Didn't have many offers this time last year, was probably headed to the MAC somewhere, then had a great senior high school season and schools like Illinois and Iowa got involved. There were even rumors of Ohio State making a late phone call (percentage of times that those rumors prove to be true: 29%), but he ended up signing with Illinois.

What I Expect From Him

Bonner is a bigger tailback. Not Tre Nation big (Nation transferred out after one year because he was recruited by Cubit but wasn't a fit for the McGee offense), but bigger than the guys Lovie has been recruiting at that spot. If Mike Epstein is the "speed" guy, Bonner is the "power" guy. (Related: Epstein is 6'-0" and 190 lbs.; Bonner is 5'-11" and 220 lbs.)

Where does a guy like that fit in the 2017 offense? I'm not sure. The top two tailbacks will be Reggie Corbin and Kendrick Foster, and then there's a battle between (I'm guessing) Dre Brown and Mike Epstein for the rest of the carries. That likely leaves Bonner as a redshirt candidate (although if Brown isn't fully healed from the knee surgeries, there might be a spot for a third-and-one tailback that Bonner could fill).

More or less, we're now at the point in this countdown where I'm curious how many freshmen Lovie will play. This is his first class - will he toss 12 of them out there on the field as true freshmen? Only play 7 and redshirt 18? We shall see.

68. Louis Dorsey

Tight End
6'-6", 225 lbs.
Freshman (on scholarship, 5 years to play 4)
Jean Ribault High School / Jacksonville, Florida

What I Know About Him

He has taken an odd journey to Big Ten tight end. As a sophomore in high school, he was a really good wide receiver with Florida State and Miami offers. Then he kept growing, and his junior year in high school it looked like he was headed for a college basketball career (had offers from places like Illinois State and College of Charleston and was concentrating on basketball, not football). Then, his senior year, he re-emerged as a football recruit again, this time (with all that added height and bulk) as a tight end. He came down to a final four of Illinois, Baylor, Indiana, and UCF and picked Illinois.

It appears that this is what Lovie is looking for with his tight ends. The latest recruit for the 2018 class - Daniel Barker - is a similar kind of athlete. Take the athletic guy who probably isn't tight end size and plays receiver in high school and turn him into a college tight end. That's the goal, anyway.

What I Expect From Him

Yep - we're totally at the "will Lovie play him as a true freshman?" portion of this list. A guy like Dorsey is a great test case. If the program was up and running, he's a guy you almost certainly redshirt. His fifth year will be way more important than anything he could provide his first year, so redshirt him, teach him how to play tight end (read: learn to block), and then take your time easing him into the rotation.

But this is year two (and a year two with the very first recruiting class for the new coach). Which means guys who would normally redshirt might be asked to get out there on the field immediately. Is Dorsey one of those guys? Maybe. He probably doesn't know how to play tight end yet, but that might not matter. We might need him in the rotation immediately. The other options at tight end are all sophomores and freshmen - what's one more freshman in the mix?

67. Ryan Tucker

6'-3", 200 lbs.
Junior (walkon, 2 years to play 2)
Marist High School / Chicago, Illinois

What I Know About Him

When I first made this list, I had Tucker higher. He was one of two walkon punters vying for the starting job, so I had him up in the 40's because there was a decent chance he'd be our starting punter.

Then we added Australian Punter Blake Hayes on scholarship, which means that Tucker might be more likely the third string punter. But he might also be our starting punter. So this is a hard one to rank. It's like I said when discussing one of the long-snappers - if the guy wins the job, he's probably the 28th most-important Illini. If he doesn't, he's maybe 74th.

What I Expect From Him

So hard to say. Could be anywhere from "starting punter" to "isn't on the roster when Training Camp starts". Walking on is a rough, rough gig - all of the hard work, none of the benefits - so I never begrudge a walkon when he doesn't want to do it anymore. I'm not saying Tucker will do that, but you have to always acknowledge it.

So for now I'll just say that Tucker is likely in a three-way battle for the starting punter job. He's a junior while the other two are freshmen, so that gives him some advantage, but he's a walkon while Blake Hayes was recruited on scholarship to be the punter, so that puts him at a disadvantage. We'll know a lot more in six weeks.

66. Evan Jones

Defensive Back
6'-2", 190 lbs.
Redshirt Freshman (on scholarship, 4 years to play 4)
Salem High School / Atlanta, Georgia

What I Know About Him

Jones walked the typical freshman defensive back path last year. Is he a cornerback? Maybe a free safety? What about strong safety? No, I think he's more of a nickel cornerback. Ideally, all freshmen defensive backs would do that - spend a few weeks at all the positions and see where he fits best (all while redshirting).

On the plus side, he's from Georgia, which is maybe the NFL defensive back capital of the world. So that's a good thing. On the negative side, Jones was a Bill Cubit recruit in that 2016 class, and there are lots of uphill battles for those Cubit guys given that Lovie just recruited a class that he hand-selected. There are spots in the rotation to be had, so this is the year for Jones to make a statement.

What I Expect From Him

After watching Jones in practice, I think he'd be a fit for the nickel cornerback spot. Lovie uses that nickel corner spot almost as much as the Sam Linebacker spot (when the nickel comes on, the SLB comes off), so it's more or less the 12th starter on the defense. Chris James started at that spot last year, eventually overtaken by Darius Mosely when Mosely moved inside and some of the freshmen started at corner. Dillan Cazley also got some snaps at that spot.

This year, with Mosely and Cazley having graduated, that nickel corner spot is up for grabs. Chris James returns, but there will be at least two of the freshman/redshirt-freshman defensive backs who will compete for that spot. I'd like to see Jones be one of them.


Bear8287 on July 09 @ 10:46 AM CDT

Hi Robert,

Thanks for the post. Friendly suggestion, how about starting at the same time of the year and doing a 70i? This was the first group where I felt like while it was still unlikely, there's at least a chance that some of these guys might see the field this season.

Just like the possible redshirt candidates where year 5 >>>> year 1, spots 1-20 >>>> 71-90 and because of the way the post schedule typically slides the quality/quantity of time for the posts is actually the opposite... just a thought.

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