It’s going to take time for Lovie Smith to build something at Illinois. The program has been down for quite some time and the Big Ten is seemingly getting stronger and stronger by the year.
Ohio State and Michigan are sure-bet College Football Playoff contenders and schools like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State and Nebraska are right on the edge and certainly are contenders within the conference.
So while the hiring of Smith did bring a lot of excitement back to Fighting Illini football — his NFL pedigree speaks for itself and his time with the Chicago Bears should play well with recruits in the Midwest — it’s probably smart to temper expectations.
That doesn’t mean Smith can’t get things rolling on the recruiting trail, though, and despite the fact that his class is rather average on a national scale, that doesn’t mean he isn’t bringing in talent.
First and foremost on that list of talent is three-star wide receiver Carmoni Green from Miami, Fla. (Miami Central). Green is Illinois’ top rated 2017 recruit and he brings a ton of potential to the table for the Illini.
Sure, Green’s numbers and rankings may not be overwhelming, but consider his offers. Obviously Illinois saw something in him that the coaching staff liked, but he also has offers from Florida, Oregon State, Appalachian State, Toledo, USF, UCF, FIU and Florida Atlantic.
The offer from the Gators is really the illuminating one of the bunch, because Jim McElwain is building a CFP contender down in Gainsville and with Green being an in-state recruit, the Florida staff likely got a chance to really evaluate him. The fact that Florida liked him enough to offer him is a big indicator of Green’s talent. The fact that Smith and his staff were able to steal Green away from the Gators, as well as a plethora of other in-state options, is another indicator. It’s a sign that Smith can get things done on the recruiting trail.
Think about it: He convinced a wide receiver to forgo playing football down in the sunny and beautiful state of Florida, and instead play Big Ten football at Illinois — where it does get rather cold and dreary. That alone is a big-time recruiting win. The fact that Illinois was able to get him away from an SEC program — and the Gators at that — makes it even more impressive.
According to the industry generated 247Sports Composite rankings, Green is the No. 53 wideout nationally and the No. 47 2017 recruit from Florida. The Sunshine State is the top state in the nation when it comes to high school football talent (Florida features 418 ranked recruits this cycle compared to the next highest total, Texas with 402) so the fact that Green is a top 50 recruit from the state points to him having immense talent.
Green’s talent shows up on the field in a big way.
He’s a lanky wideout at 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, and he uses his long strides and speed to create separation. He has over-the-top speed to beat a defense deep no matter the coverage, but he also utilizes good footwork and route-running to get open.
It really is fun to watch Green play football, because he does have a big-play mentality to him. When he gets the ball he’s a threat to find the end zone on every play, and that’s the type of explosion that could really help Illinois set itself apart in the Big Ten.
Yes, Green can take the top off a defense, but he also has good vision and elusiveness. He’s just as dangerous on shorter routes as he is on the home run balls. He can make defenders miss and he has that second-gear that separates good and great players in open space.
While all of the aforementioned skills will factor in to Green’s abilities as a wideout, perhaps his quickest impact for the Illini will come on special teams. His speed, vision and footwork all come into play when he’s returning punts and kicks, so if Smith and his staff want to get Green onto the field early at Illinois in a big-time impact role, perhaps special teams would be the best option in his freshman year.
It’s rather obvious that Green has the potential to be an immediate impact player for the Illini. If he can live up to his potential, he’ll be making plays in the Big Ten for years to come.