- Starter: Matthew Bailey
Most of the players heading to the 2023 NFL Draft didn’t play in the bowl game. This allowed for the future to get some experience. Matthew Bailey played in every game for the Illini as a true freshman, and then he got his first start against Mississippi State in the ReliQuest Bowl.
Bailey would finish his 2022 campaign with 10.0 tackles, 3.0 interceptions, 2.0 pass deflections, 1.0 forced fumbles, and 1.0 fumble recoveries. He was a nice backup piece for the Illini, and I think he moves into a starting role at safety for Illinois in 2023.
- 2nd String: Nicario Harper
Illinois did a good job bringing in safety talent to help out the starters. I like the addition of Nicario Harper. He joined the program after spending time with both Jacksonville State and Louisville. Last season, he saw action in six games with the Cardinals and then entered the transfer portal. I have Harper pegged as the second-string option to Bailey. At least we have some experience in the second level.
- 3rd String: Clayton Bush
Another option behind Bailey is Clayton Bush. He transferred in from Southern Illinois and should be an asset in the secondary. It wouldn’t shock me to see Bush compete for the primary backup job, but for now, I have him as the third-string safety.
- 4th String: TJ Griffin
Illinois also has TJ Griffin who provides some depth for the program. Griffin came in from the class of 2022, but he ended up taking a redshirt last season. I don’t expect Griffin to get too much work, but he is a nice piece to have deep on the depth chart.