Starter: Luke Ford
The departure of Daniel Barker is definitely going to hurt the Illinois football program, but with him leaving the program, it gives Luke Ford the chance to shine. I have Ford starting at tight end for the Illini this season.
Ford had, by far, the best season of his career under Bret Bielema. Heading into the 2021 campaign, Ford only had three receptions for 19 yards in his first two seasons of college football. Last year, he would go for 15 receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Bielema was in the New England Patriots organization. They love to use tight ends. I expect a little bit of that to rub off on Illinois this season. Look for Ford to have a big year as the primary receiving tight end.
Backup: Tip Reiman
Illinois also has Tip Reiman, who proved last season to be a solid option at tight end. I think Reiman will enter the year as the second-string tight end on the Illinois roster, but look for both Reiman and Ford to be on the field at the same time.
While Reiman did have three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown last season, he is more of a blocking tight end. He did finish No. 9 among Big Ten tight ends last season in blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. Illinois has some nice depth at this position.
Backup: Michael Marchese & Griffin Moore
The third-string tight end role should be a battle between Michael Marchese and Griffin Moore. Marchese recorded two receptions for 30 yards last season while Moore didn’t get on the board. Purely based on experience and the fact he started a game last season, I give the nod to Marchese as Illinois’ third-string tight end.