- Starter: Gabe Jacas
One great thing about the NCAA football rules is the fact that you have to be three years removed from high school to leave for the NFL. That means we get Gabe Jacas for two more seasons. I love to hear the hype about the Illinois defensive line, but I think people should be talking about Jacas.
Jacas is coming off a freshman All-American campaign where he dominated. He was also an All-Big Ten honorable mention. Jacas would finish his freshman season with 36.0 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and 4.0 sacks. I have him entering the 2023 campaign as one of the starting outside linebackers for the Illini. He is going to get plenty of opportunities to rack up the stats when the double teams are directed toward Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. This season is going to be exciting.
- 2nd String: Laine Jenkins
Illinois does have some quality depth at outside linebacker. This is a position of emphasis, so Bret Bielema loaded up. In the second string, I have incoming junior college transfer Laine Jenkins taking over. He was the No. 49 JUCO player in the class of 2023, and Illinois was able to flip him from Oklahoma. I think Jenkins I going to make a big impact on the Illini this season.
- 3rd String: Ezekiel Holmes
Continuing the theme of depth, I have senior Ezekiel Holmes in the third string for the Illini. He is someone who could start for the program, but injuries have hurt his chances. He actually played in three games and started one of those contests before missing the rest of the season due to injury. Let’s see if Holmes can get back up to speed and do some damage to opposing offenses.
- 4th String: Trey Smith
I don’t think he is going to play in 2023, but I have Trey Smith as the fourth-string outside linebacker entering the season. He is a freshman and is coming into the program as a three-star recruit who was the No. 944 player in the 2023 class. My guess is that Smith will redshirt this season and will be unleashed in 2024.