National Signing day has come and gone and the Fighting Illini have the 50th best recruiting class of 2018. The Illini have struggled in recruiting in the last couple years and this is a direct outcome of a 2-10 2017 season. But none the less, the Illini have secured 2 stellar 4-star recruits, something Illinois hasn’t done since signing 4-star OT Gabe Megginson in 2015, who ended up transferring out of Illinois after being bench last year. After the end of last season, the Illini saw 8 seniors leave the team, which was expected after Lovie Smith used a record number of freshmen last year.
The Fighting Illini needed to fill key positions on defense and at the quarterback position.
4-Star Center Verdis Brown
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ @verdisbrown is coming home.
— Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) December 22, 2017
The Chicago native spent his high school days playing center at IMG Academy in Florida. But, Smith intends to play Brown at defensive tackle in college, a position he played while at Mount Carmel. Brown is easily the best get this year and flipped his commitment from Florida State to the Illini during the early signing period in December. Brown adds depth and will play into Lovie’s defense, giving the Illini a run stopping ability, something they lacked last year, especially against run heavy teams in the Big 10.
4-Star DT Calvin Avery
Avery also signed with the Illini during the December Early signing period. Avery is Lovie’s highest ranked player according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings and held offers from every single football power house in America. Avery has the ability to stuff runs and sniff out plays early, often stopping plays in the back field. Paired with Verdis Brown, the Illini have a very powerful, and more importantly mold able group of young defensive backs that can make an instant impact.
The rest of the class is comprised of 3-star players. Out of all position players, the most important are the 3 QB’s that were recruited to the Illini this year.
3-Star QB MJ Rivers
Rivers is easily the best QB recruited to Illinois this year. The Dual-Threat QB from Frisco Texas threw for 4,7,27 yards in his final 2 years of school and added an astonishing 53 TDs. He also ran for 2,245 yards and 40 more scores in the same time frame, including 10 100+ yard games. Although he doesn’t have the same speed as Thomas, he is the most consistent passer that the Illini will bring into Champaign this year.
3-Star QB Matthew Robinson
Illinois was Robinson’s only Power-5 offer and was sniped from his commitment to Montana. The 6-1 QB is undersized, but has played well at Serra High school in California. In his two years as starter, Robinson threw for 4,470 yards and 42 TDs and ran for 572 yards and 8 more scores. Although he may not be a starter just yet, he adds another body to Illinois depleted QB depth chart, with Chayce Crouch quitting football and Jeff George Jr. transferring.
3-Star QB Coran Taylor
The Peoria native finally signed with the Illini on Wednesday and added another dual threat QB to the roster. In Taylor’s senior year, he threw for 1,546 yards and 18 TD and added 1,048 yards on the ground and 14 more scores. Taylor joins Robinson, Rivers and Illinois lone scholarship QB Cam Thomas
It is pretty clear that the team has transitioned completely from the Beckman Era. Last year, the Illini had only 25 upperclassmen, 9 seniors that graduated and 16 juniors, of whom 8 transferred after last season. Last year, the Illini had 87 total true freshman starts and 16 true freshman starters, which were both the most in the NCAA last year. The lack of seniority had a huge effect on last years 2-10, 0-9 B1G campaign. But, this meant that this team got a lot of experience. The Illini came 2nd in the league in forced fumbles last year and only got better on defense.
What fans need to know, is that the Illini have been going through a complete rebuild after a disastrous 4 years under Beckman/Cubit. With every player from that era almost out of the roster, this is now completely Lovie’s team. This is a critical year for the Illini, and as much as I can tell, this was a very successful recruiting season. There is still a lot of work to be done during spring workouts and summer training. But realize that this team is definitely on an upwards trajectory.