EDGY's Fighting Illini grade: B
The Fighting lllini Class of 2017 was a stark change from 2016 in a very positive way, especially from an in-state perspective. Illinois and head coach Lovie Smith signed 23 players to Letters of Intent on Wednesday with nine being in-state recruits. Besides the total number of in-state recruits being increased from two in 2016 to nine in 2017, this is also a much deeper and talented local class. Illinois added some very strong names, and players who have a chance to bolstering the overall roster depth in a big way.
Headliner of the in-state class?
Brother Rice four-star ranked wide receiver Ricky Smalling (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) was a consensus All-State player and Top 10 recruit in the Class of 2017. Smalling, who pledged to Illinois over offers from the likes of Missouri, Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana, committed to the Fighting Illini very early on (April 2016). Illinois was able to hold off several other schools, while Smalling was also key in helping the Illini land several other in-state commits.
The one who got away?
East St. Louis four-star ranked wide receiver Jeff Thomas (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) was a nationally ranked recruit who signed to the University of Miami on Wednesday. Thomas had Illinois in his top schools list very late in the progress and at one stage listed them as a leader. It seemed that once Thomas hit the national stage with an MVP performance at the Under Armour All-America Game, Illinois was suddenly out of the picture.
Final thoughts on the Fighting Illini's recruiting efforts:
Overall, this was a positive first step and first in-state signing class for the Fighting Illini under Smith. Illinois landed a consensus Top 10 headliner in Smalling, along with several very solid names that have a chance to battle for early playing time. Most importantly is that Smith and his staff found in-state coaches, players and parents very open and welcoming. Illinois can certainly build off of its first in-state recruiting class success and continue to build those relationships. How can Illinois take the next step and begin to land more higher profile names? Winning and making positive progress on the field. Illinois has a lot to sell recruits but improving the product on the field is the No. 1 priority.