3. Tyler Strain – Cornerback
The Illinois secondary is filled with young, inexperienced, players who are trying to learn on the fly. They got their first action in the bowl game against Mississippi State, and now they are thrown to the wolves early on in 2023.
A part of this youth movement due to so many departures is Tyler Strain. The talented cornerback looked good against the Bulldogs in that bowl game back in January, but he has started the 2023 campaign off on the wrong foot.
Strain is not able to keep up with wide receivers and is getting lost at times in the secondary. This has enabled Toledo and Kansas to pass on this once-vaunted Illinois defense.
In Strain’s Pro Football Focus grades, the struggles are shown. He has an overall defensive grade of 55.5, which ranks No. 565 out of 653 cornerbacks that have been graded this season.
The strength of Strain is his run defense. He checks in with a grade of 62.0. This is good enough to be No. 457 among all cornerbacks. His weakest area is the coverage defense, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Strain has a coverage grade of 54.2, which ranks No. 495 out of the 573 cornerbacks that have been graded in pass coverage.
I think it is kind of impressive that Illinois is 1-1 with how bad the defense has been playing. We are giving up 253.5 yards per game through the air. This is bad enough to rank No. 88 out of 133 DI programs. That is a massive drop from the 184.2 yards per game through the air we were giving up in 2022. Strain has to improve moving forward if we want to win games this season. Let’s start by seeing improvement against the Nittany Lions.