The Land of Lincoln features several names to watch for in the upcoming NFL Draft, which begins next Thursday. Here is a list of NFL hopefuls who hail from Illinois:
DE A.J. Epenesa, Edwardsville/Iowa
Epenesa, a rare Rivals.com five-star ranked recruit from the Metro East area, was also ranked as the 30th best player in the nation in the Class of 2017. Epenesa, the son of former Iowa defensive linemen Eppy Epenesa, was verbally committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes over a year before making his official visit in Iowa City. Epenesa chose Iowa over drawing scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC, along with nearly the entire Big Ten conference.
TE Cole Kmet, St. Viator/Notre Dame
Kmet, a four-star ranked tight end according to Rivals.com, gave Notre Dame his verbal commitment on October 2, 2015 as part of the Fighting Irish Class of 2017. Kmet, who was also a standout baseball player who played both football and baseball in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, narrowed down his list of favorites to Notre Dame and Ohio State. Kmet drew scholarship offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina, among others. Kmet, who's father Frank played in the NFL for six seasons, played in the 2017 US Army All American Game.
TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Sacred Heart-Griffin/Missouri
Known simply as “Albert O” in his days at Sacred Heart-Griffin playing for Hall of Fame head coach Ken Leonard, Okwuegbunam was a three star ranked tight end according to Rivals.com. He committed to Missouri on Sept. 20, 2015 after taking part in a game day visit to Columbia. Okwuegbunam, who also considered offers from Syracuse, Nebraska, West Virginia, Indiana and Michigan State drew considerable pressure from multiple schools to reconsider his choice after giving the Tigers his verbal commitment. However, he made his only official visit to Missouri in January. Owkuegbunam also was part of the Cyclones’ back to back Class 5A state title championship teams in 2013 and 2014.
DL Raequan Williams, DePaul Prep/Michigan State
Williams, who began his high school career as a Gordon Tech Ram and finished his high school career as a DePaul Prep Ram, (the school changed names in the summer of 2014) was a four-star ranked defensive linemen according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2015. Williams committed to Michigan State on December 20, 2014 in front a a packed gym before his basketball game that night. Williams, who was a two-way four year varsity starter at DePaul Prep, also considered Iowa and made official visits to both Iowa and Michigan State before making his final college choice. Williams drew scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Oregon, Penn State and Tennessee.
RB James Robinson, Rockford Lutheran/Illinois State
Robinson, who was a two-star ranked running back according to Rivals.com during the Class of 2016, committed to Illinois State on Feb. 25 of that year. Robinson, who still holds IHSA two rushing records for most career rushing yards (9,045 yards) and career rushing touchdowns (158) was offered by Illinois State and head coach Brock Spack after an impressive summer camp performance had just one additional scholarship offer from Eastern Illinois along with steady recruiting interest from Iowa.
WR Jeff Thomas, East St. Louis/Miami
Thomas, who was a four-star ranked wide receiver recruit according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2017, was simply one of the state's fastest and most electric play makers during his high school career at East St. Louis. Thomas, who drew nationwide recruiting attention since his freshman year at East St. Louis had narrowed down his final list of favorite schools to Illinois, Miami, Oregon and Tennessee decided to commit to the Miami Hurricanes on national Letter of Intent day Feb. 1, 2017 after making an official visit to Miami on Jan. 21.
DL Mike Panasiuk, Lake Park/Michigan State
Panasiuk, who was a four-star ranked defensive tackle according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2017 committed to Michigan State on June 8th, 2015 just days after making an on campus unofficial visit and adding his Spartans offer. Panasiuk also considered Wisconsin, Penn State, Missouri and Minnesota along with Michigan State as his top schools list. Panasiuk was a four year varsity starter at Lake Park for head coach Chris Roll and was named as an All State player in 2014 and 2015 by EDGYTIM/Rivals.com.
DT Amir Watts, Chicago Phillips/Pitt
Watts, who was a four-star ranked defensive tackle according to Rivals.com in the Class of 2016, committed to Pitt on January 25th, 2016 just a few days after making an official visit to Pitt. Watts, who held 25 FBS level scholarship offers also took official visits to Minnesota and Indiana. Watts who was named as an All State player in the 2015 season by multiple media outlets, was also a key on the Philips Wildcats 2015 Class 4A state title team. Chicago Phillips in 2014 was the first ever Chicago Public League football program to win an IHSA state title.
Others NFL Draft hopefuls to watch:
QB Broc Ruter, Neuqua Valley/ North Central College
OL Luke Juriga, Marmion Academy/ WMU
LB Jordan Glasgow, Marmion Academy/ Michigan
RB Jonathon Ward, Bishop McNamara/ Central Michigan
WR Matt Cole, Chicago Curie/ McKendree
K Tucker McCann, O’Fallon/ Missouri
OL Tre’Vour Wallace Simms, East St. Louis/ Missouri