Next in our draft series of potential Tampa Bay Buccaneers targets, we take a look at the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Yeah, yeah. It’s the lowly Fighting Illini of the Big 10 with familiar face Lovie Smith at the helm. Laugh all you want, but for whatever reason – despite the poor win-loss record – the University of Illinois still seems to churn out NFL prospects. The Buccaneers have drafted five players from Illinois – Craig Swoope, Jameel Cook, Arrelious Benn, Kelvin Atkins, and most recently Akeem Spence. And let us not forget Hall of Fame semi-finalist Simeon Rice was a Fighting Illini and when he finally gets the call from Canton, he will enter as a Buccaneer.
All that said, here is the list of Illinois Fighting Illini players entering the draft;
Cornerback – Jaylen Dunlap
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Defensive End – James Crawford
Wide Receiver – Malik Turner
Running Back – Kendrick Foster
Cornerback – Ahmari Hayes
Running Back – Brandon Roberts
Tight End – Nathan Echard
Offensive Tackle – Jordan Fagan
Offensive Tackle – Christian DiLauro
Wide Receiver – Jordan Roberts
Senior To Watch: Cornerback – Jaylen Dunlap
Jaylen Dunlap is viewed currently by Walter Football as a late day two to early day three prospect. Although Dunlap wasn’t great in his senior season, as a Junior, Dunlap posted an all time top-10 finish in Illinois history for pass breakups in a single season. He finished with only one interception but had eighteen pass breakups and six sacks. On WalterFootball.com, they cite that sources have told them Dunlap “has the skill set to be a better pro than a college player,” and that he is a better press-man corner. Being a better press-man corner could explain the poor numbers, knowing the Lovie Smith defensive system as we all do, Dunlap wasn’t put in a position to succeed. Instead, he will be a “project” corner that will likely surprise anyone who drafts him. For the Buccaneers, they have quite a few defensive needs so the cornerback position may slip to day three by default and Dunlap could be a solid target if that is indeed the case.
Senior To Watch Part II: Defensive End – James Crawford
Another day three prospect, but I am in no way saying the Buccaneers shouldn’t address defensive end sooner than this. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs sign a defensive end in free agency and draft two more come April. Crawford is another developmental guy, but shows flashes of promise. He didn’t register a sack until his senior season, but played sparingly before that. Crawford finished 2017 with four sacks to go along with his 5.5 tackles for loss. He had eleven tackles for loss in his career as well as six passes defensed, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. The raw athleticism is there, but Crawford still needs some development. Look for him to go in the seventh round or possibly slip through to undrafted free agency where a team can place him on a practice squad to bring him up to speed.
Although it’s unlikely the Buccaneers will draft one of these players, it’s not impossible. As you can see in the video above, Jaylen Dunlap has some raw skill to go along with his 6’1″ stature. If the Bucs are going to draft someone out of Illinois, hopefully he is the target.