Illinois Football: Breaking Down the Full Class of 2017 After Signing Day


Every Illinois football fan has heard the slogan “We Will Win” probably about 400 times.

While maybe some fans are tired of hearing it, it is starting to ring true. Lovie and Co. are bringing in some special talent, but how special?

I know that a class ranked No. 34 (according to in the nation does not seem all that impressive, but when you compare it to last season’s class (No. 72 according to, this one is something to get excited about.

Even in the Big Ten, this class fares much better. Last season, the Illini were ranked No. 13 in the conference (by multiple sites), and that is the second-worst in the Big Ten. This season, however, is a completely different story.

The Illini were ranked as high as No. 7 and as low as No. 11 in the Big Ten. No matter how you look at it, this season’s class is an improvement over the last one.

Illinois Fighting Illini Football
Illinois Fighting Illini Football /

Illinois Fighting Illini Football

Probably more important than Big Ten rankings as a whole are the rankings in the Big Ten East and West.

The Illini are in the Big Ten West, and this division is normally led by Iowa, Wisconsin, or Nebraska. In the recruiting rankings, however, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota are the leaders.

The Big Ten West also makes up the lower half of the conference rankings as well. Purdue, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Iowa make up five of the bottom six teams.

Rankings can make the Illini faithful happy, but what should make them even happier is the actual talent being brought in.

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With Dwayne Lawson (JUCO) coming in, along with Cam Thomas, the Illini have their present and future quarterbacks.

Illinois definitely added some running back depth with the signings of Ra’Von Bonner and Mike Epstein as well.

I am personally most excited about the wide receiver position. With Ricky Smalling, Carmoni Green, and Kendall Smith all coming in, the Illini were able to add some talent to a position that was lacking a lot of it.

Now I would like to praise Luke Butkus and the amazing job he did with this offensive line. He got some big boys that are going to lead the way for the Illini. Larry Boyd, Howard Watkins, Vederian Lowe, and Alex Palczewski are all great additions to this offensive front, and they will all develop well under Butkus.

Also, the addition of Louis Dorsey (TE) will prove to be a big one. He is very tall and athletic and has big play potential. If he can block, he will most likely be seeing a lot of playing time.


There are also tons of defensive players to be excited about. Kendrick Green, Owen Carney, Olalere Oladipo, Deon Pate, and Jamal Woods make up the defensive front for this class. They also “flipped” Bobby Roundtree and they were able to land the talented defensive end.

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A few of these guys will have a chance at playing time this season and I think a couple may redshirt.

Del’Shawn Phillips and Marc Mondesir are the linebackers in this class. Nickerson may have found the next version of his son in Phillips.

Phillips is a guy who plays with tons of aggression and he finds the ball. He will bring a lot to the team this season. The linebacker position will be pretty set for the 2017 campaign.

The secondary was a point of emphasis coming into this recruiting class and the Illini delivered. James Knight (also LB), Nate Hobbs, Bennett Williams, Tony Adams, and Dawson DeGroot were all added to the secondary.

Hobbs is the only true corner and the others play a lot of safety. Either way, it was crucial that the Illini snagged up some players to play in this secondary for the next few seasons.

Special Teams

Many of these kids could end up playing special teams in the future. The Illini still need a punter. Ryan Stonehouse could be the guy, but he also has an offer from Arizona.

Next: Top 5 Recruits Who Will Impact the 2017 Season


This is Lovie’s first class and with it, he brought in many players to be excited about on all sides of the ball. This whole staff at Illinois deserves a standing ovation for the work they have done.

To jump as high as they did in the rankings and fill positions of need is just remarkable. From every Illini fan all over the world I say, thank you.

I would give this class an A-, which is a very good grade considering that this is the first of many for Lovie Smith.

**Zion Debose commits on Friday. Illinois is in the final four. **