An Attempt At A Depth Chart

Jan 15, 2021

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Let's start with this: I really shouldn't be doing a depth chart yet. We still don't know if some seniors are returning or if they're leaving. And there will be several transfers coming in (and even a few more high school recruits). But the students begin returning to campus today (by that I mean the first set of students begin the process of obtaining two negative Covid tests to gain access to campus again), and the five early enrollees will be on campus in the next week, so it's time to look at where the roster stands.

This depth chart will look a little funny, though. Mostly because we don't exactly know what the offense or defense will look like. The transfer of Max Rosenthal means we're going to have fullbacks now, so I'm going to have to add fullbacks and then go find some walkon linebackers who might switch to fullback and back up Rosenthal (still so weird for me to type).

On defense, we don't exactly know if it's going to be a 3-4 or a 4-3. So I think I'm just going to group the defensive line like this:

DT - Interior defensive tackles. Think nose tackle.
LE - Left End. This is where I'll group the "more of a DT than a DE" guys.
RE - Right End. This will be the "typical strongside DE" players.
Edge - Think weakside defensive ends and pass-rushing outside linebackers.

Then I'll group the linebackers without using strong or weak. I'm just going to go with RLB, MLB, LLB (right, middle, left).

We also don't know how the corners or safeties will run. Especially the safeties. Similar roles or a true "free" and "strong" scenario? And will the corners run field/boundary or mostly just right/left? We don't know any of that yet, so I'm just going CB, CB, S, S.

Then there's the question of which players return. There are still four players listed on the official roster as seniors who have not announced their intentions. One of them is Marc Mondesir, who, technically, might only be a junior and could play two more seasons. So we don't even know if he'll "announce" a return or just return. There's also New Mexico transfer Desmond Dan, a wide receiver who did not play this season. Will he return? Is he injured? Done with football? We don't know.

To me, in trying to fill out this three-deep, I'm waiting to hear from two players: Tony Adams and Roderick Perry. I'm going to include both in this depth chart, assuming both return until we hear otherwise. I believe both would start if they returned.

And again, I'm guessing that in the next four months we'll add around a dozen new players. If Illinois plays HS football this spring, maybe some offensive lineman like Palcho emerges. Junior college football will also happen this spring, so maybe my May there's a juco or two who could help next season. And then there's the transfer market which will be white hot all the way through the summer.

One last thing: everyone keeps the same year-in-school from this past season. If you were a redshirt-sophomore then, you're still a redshirt sophomore. You're going to see Chase Brown listed as a sophomore, and you're going to say "wait, Chase Brown has three more years?", and yes, Chase Brown has three more years. If you think you've had "it seems like that guy has been around college football forever" feelings now, wait until Keith Randolph is still starting on the defensive line in 2023.

That enough disclaimers for you? I pride myself on getting depth charts right, and this one... will not be right. But I think you know that by now. On to the three-deep. New players (transfers or incoming freshmen) in italics.

QB | Peters (SR) ~OR~ Williams (rs-FR) | Robinson (rs-SO) | Taylor (rs-SO) | Spann (FR)
RB | C. Brown (rs-SO) ~AND~ Epstein (rs-JR) | Hayden (rs-JR) | Love (FR) | Norwood (rs-SO)
FB | Rosenthal (rs-JR) | McEachern (JR-walkon) | McCray (FR)
TE | Barker (rs-JR) | Ford (rs-SO) | Moore (FR) | Reiman (FR-walkon)
LT | Lowe (SR) | Jones (rs-FR) | Sparks (FR)
LG | Jeresaty (SR) | Slaughter (rs-SO) | Kirts (FR)
C | Kramer (SR) | Pihlstrom (rs-JR) | Kreutz (FR)
RG | V. Brown (rs-SO) | Plohr (rs-FR) | Tyler (FR)
RT | Palczewski (SR) | Pearl (rs-SO) | Okpala (rs-FR)
WR1 | Navarro (JR) | Cumby (rs-FR) | Lindenman (FR-walkon)
WR2 | Frenchie (FR) | Bryant (FR) | Sandy (SO)
WR3 | Hightower (JR) | Campbell (SO) | Thompson (rs-JR)
RE | Carney (SR) | Randolph (rs-FR) | Holmes (rs-SO)
DT | Perry (SR) | Avery (JR) | Pate (rs-JR)
LE | Newton (FR) | Woods (SR) | B. Barnes (SO)
EDGE | Coleman (rs-FR) | Gay (SR) | Mondesir (SR)
RLB | Cooper (rs-FR) | Hart (rs-SO) | Villanueva (FR)
MLB | T. Barnes (SO) | Meed (SO-walkon) | Rosiek (FR)
LLB | Tolson (JR) | Coghlan (JR-walkon) | Darkangelo (SO-walkon)
CB | Witherspoon (SO) | K. Smith (SR) | Edwards (FR)
CB | Adams (SR) | Beason (rs-FR) | Nicholson (FR)
S | S. Brown (JR) | D. Smith (JR) | Snyder (FR)
S | Martin (JR) | Joseph (JR) | J. Washington (FR)
Kicker | McCourt (SR) | Griffin (rs-SO)
Punter | Hayes (SR) | Robertson (FR)
Longsnapper | Tabel (SR) | Hall (rs-FR)
Punt Return | Frenchie (FR) | Cumby (rs-FR)
KO Return | Thompson (rs-JR) | Love (FR)

Some thoughts, but not many thoughts, because we don't really know anything yet.

  • Linebacker is obviously the biggest need. Lovie had been recruiting for two linebacker spots and filling the third with safety-types like Delano Ware (who left the team). If this new defense requires three and a half linebackers (the "half" being the edge guy), well, we're in trouble. That's why you saw Calvin Hart as the first transfer of the Bielema era and also why I think you'll see some position moves to linebacker. Derrick Smith? Nick Fedanzo? I think there will be at least two.
  • Defensive back is also thin. Say Tony Adams does not return and Marquez Beason joins his cousin at Oregon State. Well then defensive back just got incredibly super thin and true freshmen like Snook Edwards, DD Snyder, and Joriell Washington are going to have to play. So in that scenario, I think you'd see several DB transfers.
  • I just want to note this here: walkon tight end Tip Reiman is one to watch.
  • I knew that the offensive line had a lot of bodies, but I guess I didn't fully realize it until putting this together. That's a three-deep and I didn't have any room for second-year players like Phifer Griffin or first-year players like Brody Wisecarver. There will be a big drop after the four seniors graduate, so it needs to be deep, but I'd just like to note that it's extra deep right now.
  • I don't feel awful about the starters in bold? No idea how they'll fit into the schemes, and not sure if this will even be the starting lineup, but I found myself saying "not bad" a lot. There's some "rs-FR" in there, but those guys are third-year players. Lots of question marks around the linebacker injuries but a front-seven of Randolph-Perry-Newton-Coleman-Cooper-Barnes-Tolson is a Big Ten West front seven. Just might not be experienced (or healthy) enough.
  • Also, I think Randolph, Coleman, and Newton are ready to make a jump next season, which is why I have Gay and Woods coming off the bench.

One last disclaimer: there will be at least a dozen changes to this between now and late August. This is way, WAY early. But for now, that's how I see things.

Now let's go find some transfers.

1/17/21 edit: Owen Carney has pulled his name out of the transfer portal and will return to Illinois. I added him to the depth chart. Also, Tony Adams announced his return (I already had him on the depth chart), so we're down to one name on the depth chart who has yet to announce his intentions: Rod Perry.

1/18/21 edit: Rod Perry has announced he's returning. But WR Casey Washington put his name in the transfer portal. Both changes have been made on this depth chart.


tnovak on January 15, 2021 @ 04:24 PM

Thanks for giving this an early shot Robert. I'd agree with most of your points & insights. But I'd add that, in today's game where dynamic wide receivers are required, we have none that fit that description. I'd say we are well below average and the depth is thin at WR.

Brave Illini on January 15, 2021 @ 04:36 PM

Makes you wonder if the Coaches will consider moving 1 from quarterback to wr.

Eagle on January 16, 2021 @ 04:15 AM

As much as I'd like to see 1 at WR, we have to have Peters and 1 compete for the QB spot. Somebody has to push Peters to be better or take his spot.

ItsTBaggins on January 15, 2021 @ 04:49 PM

I thought I remembered Wisecarver’s position wrong when I didn’t see him... depth is a good problem to have

Ellisrt1031 on January 15, 2021 @ 05:07 PM

Will be interesting to see if safety play is better under new staff/scheme. Our safety play was atrocious last year. Coverage, tackling, penalties. All.

seanf on January 15, 2021 @ 05:52 PM

It can't get much worse, and with our new DC coaching them, I expect them to be much better.

IBFan on January 15, 2021 @ 09:40 PM

Thanks Robert! I’m sure we are all ok with you making as many adjustments as needed. It’s just great to get an overview of what the team makeup will look like. Couple things.... Nick at LB is that based solely on a feeling/experience or have you seen/heard something that leads this thought process? Is he not right for a future FB or “IlliniBack”? Lastly if you don’t mind, what are the time frames that Beason and others have to make their decisions?

PosterNB12 on January 16, 2021 @ 05:13 AM

I know it doesn’t make sense to critique this given your caveats, but I will do it anyway.

Don’t think we have a FB. Instead we have a lot of 2 TE sets. Ford and Barker as more traditional TE, and Rosenthal as blocking TE and H Back. Bryce Barnes would fill that role perfectly. McCray will be a big RB.

Don’t see why Gay/Coleman/Mondesir/Holmes would be at different positions. Think they are all rush OLBs in a 3-4 (or weak side DEs in a 4-3).

Actually think we have good foundation for a 3-4. Perry/Avery at NT, Woods/Newton/Randolph at DE, Gay/Coleman at rush (weakside) OLB, Hart/Tolson at cover (strong side) OLB. As you say, lacking ILB. Tarique Barnes and??? Maybe Shammond can play there.

Need another NT, 2 ILBs, and 2 DBs. Not sure if we can find all that (or have scholarships) in the portal.

Feel good about offense. Great OL, solid RB/TEs. Need at least one WR, but moving to a lot of 2 TE sets should cover that up.

Brave Illini on January 17, 2021 @ 07:44 PM

Update, please.

Robert on January 17, 2021 @ 09:15 PM


Brave Illini on January 17, 2021 @ 10:31 PM

I see the defense as hard to predict, as it is hard to tell how much of our defensive problems, especially pass defense, were due to player shortcomings or the schemes the coaches used. Like most, I did not like the philosophy of relying on turnovers more than one of tight coverage on receivers. Robert, do you have any thoughts, having been to practices as well as the games?

Brave Illini on January 18, 2021 @ 01:02 AM

Isn't Carney's reversal really significant? He made a decision to leave, giving up his scholarship and place on the team. You have to think the coaching staff re-recruited him to return to the team, promising to restore his scholarship and player status. He likely considered the possible embarrassment from making such a significant decision and then changing his mind. It would be interesting to know what other teams were trying to attract him once he entered the portal, and the factors causing him to return. It also would be interesting to know how many times a football player has entered the transfer portal but then returned to the same team. This seems to be a major victory for the new coaching staff, and portends good things for the future in terms of recruiting.

Robert on January 18, 2021 @ 03:14 AM

I don't think it's that. At least not this year.

First off, there's no cap on scholarships for 2021. So while next January it would be "giving up his scholarship and place on the team", this year it's just that every senior can come back.

Really, I think this is just the new reality. I can see a scenario where thousands of college football players put their name in the portal after every season. That makes it possible for them to talk to other schools and, if they don't like what they hear, they can go back to their school. We're more or less headed for "recruit your entire roster every year".

Brave Illini on January 18, 2021 @ 02:51 PM

As I understand the way the portal works, once a player enters it, he is subject to being removed from the roster and losing his scholarship. Coming back is not a one-way decision. So there is that risk. While scholarships are not scarce presently, they will be in coming years. With Carney, though, I agree that should not be an issue. The other point of significance is, unless there is something about Carney we don't know, he was likely being courted, probably heavily, once he entered the portal. He was recruited heavily out of high school, and he developed into one of our best defensive players. So assuming other programs showed interest, and possibly highly ranked programs, it seems awfully significant that this coaching staff could lure the young man back to Illinois.

Robert on January 18, 2021 @ 04:07 PM

It's also possible that other programs showed interest but did not extend offers. Those programs still limited by the "maximum of 25 new players on the roster every year" if they want to bring in a transfer, so if they only have 1 or 2 spots available after signing a big HS class, they might not see Carney as worth it.

And to be fair, while this is very big for Illinois (thin line depth), here's how some teams might have seen Carney: he was 2nd-team All Big Ten because he was third in the conference with five sacks. Three of those five sacks came in the second half of the Purdue game after Purdue's right tackle got hurt and they put in the backup. Carney beat him twice and the third sack was a scramble where Carney caught the QB 1 yard short of the LOS near the sideline.

I think Carney was just starting to blossom this year (4th year, would have been one of those 4th-year juniors at Iowa that always breaks out their 4th season), so I think he gets even better next year (see every 5th-year senior DE on Iowa the last 20 years), so I'm thrilled about this. He was my highest-ranked recruit in the 2017 class. But I can see how other teams might have investigated ("wow - third in the Big Ten in sacks and he's available?") and then backed off once they watched the Purdue tape.

Brave Illini on January 18, 2021 @ 06:20 PM

Thanks for that added detail. As usual, you mined the facts upon which to base your opinions and conclusions.

Efremwinters84 on January 19, 2021 @ 10:22 PM

Overall, BB could not have done much better in securing the seniors for another year. Actually, the same could be said of the entire roster given the ease of transferring with immediate eligibility.

Robert on January 20, 2021 @ 05:31 PM

Well, that "ease" isn't there yet. The NCAA put off voting on it last week. It was supposed to be approved on January 11th but the NCAA delayed the vote.

I still think it will pass this spring whenever they vote, but as of today, players transferring technically still have to sit out a year or obtain a waiver.

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