Oluwole Betiku declaring for the NFL Draft on Saturday helps and hurts the Illinois football program.
Betiku made headlines for Illinois by declaring for the draft on Saturday. He came into Illinois as a transfer defensive end from USC. He entered the program as a player who had potential but was still raw because of the lack of playing time with the Trojans. But, with defensive line coach Austin Clark leaving, it comes as no surprise that Betiku is declaring for the draft.
I believe Betiku was the best defensive lineman for the Illini this past season as he led Illinois in sacks with nine and he also had 36 tackles. He slowed down as the season progressed due to injuries and opponents getting better but still had a good season rushing the passer.
The bad part of Betiku leaving is the Illini roster has few proven pass rushers. Illinois will be playing a lot of redshirt and true freshman next year at defensive end. Playing unproven players hurts because we don’t know how good they will be. They didn’t receive a lot of playing time last year.
Even though Illinois has a good amount of potential at the defensive end spot, this hurts because the talent is young and they are going to be playing against some good Big Ten offensive tackles
The Illinois pass rushers for next season, who are returning from last year and played meaningful minutes, are Jamal Woods, Calvin Avery, Deon Pate, Owen Carney and Isaiah Gay. The only problem with those players is that Woods gets injured, Avery doesn’t always play with a high motor and Gay and Carney have struggled with Big Ten offensive lineman.
Even with Betiku leading the Illini in sacks, his production on the field isn’t irreplaceable as he had moments where he struggled with getting off blocks and making the right play on read options.
But I do think there is a silver lining for the Illini. Betiku is now heading to the NFL, which shows recruits that you can come to Illinois and still make it to the league. That is a huge recruiting tool.
This recognition is good as Illinois hasn’t had many players declare for the draft in the past three years. Betiku entering the NFL Draft could help get some recruits. There is a contingency of high school, junior college and transfer recruits looking to play in the NFL. Having Betiku declare for the draft could help with recognition, and it helps the Illini are coming off a bowl game in 2019 too.
Betiku leaving helps and hurts Illinois, but I hope he gets drafted as he can become a good pass rusher if a team is able to help him develop at the next level. Hopefully, this becomes a trend with the Illinois football program moving forward.