Illinois finished the early signing period strong by landing top 200 OL/DT Verdis Brown from IMG. That helped move Illinois from the low 60’s to the low 50’s in the recruiting rankings alongside some other players gaining three star status. There goes that whole talent evaluation thing I have mentioned several times. The staff which will have some coaching changes announced in the coming days will need to finish the next six weeks strong to stack back to back top 40 national classes. Here are my top names to keep an eye on during January visits.

Merlin Robertson 6’3 225 OLB

Illinois has gained some big time help on the defensive line, Lovie is looking for that anchor to patrol and control his linebacker core. The staff has its eyes set on Merlin Robertson who has an official visit set in the second week of January. He has the physical imposing presence and athletic ability Lovie Smith demands from his linebackers. He can fly from sideline to sideline and cover tight ends with ease. A consensus four star prospect from Junipero Serra High school in California. Hardy Nickerson and Joe Fotu have been the main recruiters for Merlin and have done a nice job selling him on starting early and the NFL coaching experience the staff has. Those are two big things Merlin has stated he wants from the school he picks. As of today, BYU and Illinois are the two most believe will be fighting for his services. Landing Merlin would be a huge boost for the staff and program building an elite defense.

Davyen Coleman 6’2 205 S/LB

Illinois needs playmakers at the linebacker position. Davyen Coleman has been recruited as a safety at many schools and played both linebacker and safety in high school. Illinois is recruiting him at linebacker and Davyen has said that’s the position he sees himself playing. A former UCLA commit opened his recruitment up last month and had taken officials to Colorado and Kansas State before coming to Champaign last weekend. Davyen his a hard hitting and quick athlete with good size. Illinois feels it put itself in good position after last weekend and Davyen posted on his twitter he is shutting his recruitment down just a few days ago. I believe he is hoping or waiting for offers from Texas A&M among other programs from his home state. If no other offers come Illinois and Kansas State seem to be the favorite to land his commitment.

Nikko Hall 6’2 200 WR

Nikko Hall has been in contact with the Illinois staff for months. He had planned on coming to the lovie BBQ back in July but schedule conflicts got in the way. Nikko will be visiting Illinois officially in January. A four star from Calabasas High school in California, Nikko has great hands and size that make him a threat in the redzone and can be a go to guy on third down. He has family ties to Illinois, his uncle David Williams was an Illini great back in the 80’s and he also has a lot of family in Chicago. Nikko will be signing in February and is taking his time. Illinois is in need of more talented wide receivers and Illinois fits the bill with playing time available. Oregon State will be competition for Illinois in this recruitment as well as a couple of other PAC-12 teams. The intrigue from his uncle David during his time at Illinois has really given Illinois a shot to impress and land this talented four star from California.

John Jackson 6’1 190 WR

If you haven’t noticed Illinois is targeting linebacker and wide receiver as a priority to finish this 2018 class. They are in on another top California wideout John Jackson from Junipero Serra High school. He’s teammates with top linebacking target Merlin Robertson, Hardy Nickerson and Joe Fotu got a chance to watch them play this season and it wasn’t hard to see why they offered. Jackson is explosive in the open field and has no issues catching the ball in the in traffic using his big body. He has NFL bloodlines as his father was an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 80’s and 90’s. John was supposed to come visit early in December but had to finish his finals and decided to come in January with teammate Merlin Robertson. I spoke to Jon over the last week and he told me he will be visiting UCLA as well as Illinois next month. The Illini will do well by landing a commitment from Jackson or Nikko Hall.

Demarcus Irons Jr 6’4 200 QB

With Coran Taylor not signing during the early signing period that leaves an opening of uncertainty. With grades related issues causing Taylor to wait and see if anything changes in February nothing is guaranteed for another QB, the Illini staff offered Irons who has an impressive HUDL. With elite athleticism and length Demarcus has a strong arm and is very accurate on the move. His team played great competition in Georgia and he threw for over 3,000 yards and ran for nearly 800 yards. I am honestly shocked his best offers were from Austin Peay and Jackson State. He had went to visit Tennessee as a junior but after a big time senior season former coach Garrick McGee offered Demarcus last week. The thing to watch for Irons, McGee is no longer on the staff- is this still the direction Lovie wants to go? Will be an interesting next six weeks to finish off the 2018 recruiting class.

Swami Soundoff

Illinois with the right coaching hires over the next week or two can help itself potentially in February. If Illinois lands a couple of these guys especially Merlin Robertson, Illinois will put itself in great spot to finish higher than it did a season ago. Perception is reality for many people and then, not many could say anything about getting star power for 2018. Don’t be shocked if a couple more surprise names show up on visits in January or with offers. One group I didn’t mention is defensive end, Illinois would love to add a little more depth behind a talented 2017 class. Things are on the up with Illinois football, it will be an exciting next several weeks

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