Disappointingly, the Illinois Fighting Illini football season has come to a close, and for some players that means their gridiron careers have also come to a close. Some Illini, however, are going to continue to chase their dreams of playing on Sunday afternoons in the National Football League.
Illinois has been flooding the NFL with talent the past few years, but the NFL level talent rich pool has nearly run dry, and barring something truly crazy happening there are probably only 2 Illini seniors who will have a legitimate shot at being taken on draft day. That’s not to say others won’t be offered free agent contracts once the draft concludes, but it’s highly unlikely that any other players are taken during the actual draft itself.
Jonathan Brown (Linebacker)
Brown is the one sure fire selection that Illinois has to offer to the NFL Draft this season. He is a highly instinctual linebacker that has a knack for being around the ball. His only true “down year” happened during his junior season, and that was completely due to injury.
This season, Brown bounced back to lead the Illinois defense with 119 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. He also mixed in 1 interception, 4 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. Brown ranked 2nd in the Big Ten in tackles, and his performance netted Second Team All-Big Ten honors. He finished his career at Illinois #3 all time in tackles for loss with 45.5. Considering some of the defensive greats that have played at Illinois, ranking this high on the list is certainly impressive.
There’s no doubt he will be missed at Illinois, but his loss will be the NFL’s gain.
The Memphis, TN native will most likely be taken in the 4th or 5th round at the latest, and whichever team decides to pull that trigger is going to be very happy that they did because he will be a productive piece that has proven he can get the job done when given the chance.
Steve Hull (Wide Receiver)
Hull flourished at wide receiver during his senior year, falling just short of 1000 yards receiving on the season, after playing the previous three seasons at Safety. He was the hottest receiver in the country in the final 4 weeks of the season which should help build his draft stock.
His ability to play Safety will most likely also make him attractive to an NFL team, although it seems clear that his future should be at wide receiver. He has the speed, route running ability, and hands to play wide receiver at the NFL level, and he has a unique understanding of what defenses are trying to do because he has played both sides of the ball.
It would not shock me to see the Cincinnati, OH native selected late in the draft, perhaps in the 7th round by a team that is in need of playmakers such as the New York Jets, who have recent history with Illinois talent (Jeff Cumberland), and 3 projected 7th round selections.
It’s unfortunate that Hull had to spend 3 years on the defensive side of the ball because Illinois lacked appropriate talent in the secondary. If he had been a wide receiver his entire career I have little doubt that he would be a mid-round selection much like Jonathan Brown.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.