This season the Illinois football team will be a fairly young team compared to years past. Everyone knows about quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, running back Jason Ford, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and the offensive line, but here I will be talking about five freshmen who will make an immediate impact this upcoming season.
The obvious one is 4-star (Scout.com) tight end Jon Davis from Middletown, Ky. Davis was coach Ron Zook's top recruit from this past recruiting class and the only 4-star recruit. Davis chose Kentucky originally and then de-committed on the final day and signed with the Illini.
Jon Davis will have to compete with sophomore tight end Evan Wilson for playing time. Some of Davis' strengths are his downfield threat, quickness off of the line and his speed. An area of improvement for Davis is his blocking ability, which may keep him off the field in favor of Wilson, who can block well. I still expect Davis to be a key to Scheelhaase and the passing game this season.
The second freshman impact player will be 3-star (Scout.com) middle linebacker Ralph Cooper from Winnsboro, S.C. Cooper was Zook's top linebacker in the 2011 class. With the loss of Martez Wilson to the NFL, Cooper should get valuable playing time this year as the primary backup and should be a boost for the Illini.
The third freshman who will make an impact this season is 3-star (Scout.com) running back Josh Ferguson from Joliet, Ill. Ferguson was the top running back that signed with Illinois. With Illinois using a two-back system, depending on what Ferguson does at Camp Rantoul next month will determine if he will be the No. 2 back behind senior Jason Ford. Ferguson's strengths are his breakaway speed, cutback ability and his vision. One area of improvement is tackle-breaking ability.
The fourth freshman is 3-star (Scout.com) safety Nick North from Hollywood, Fla. North is entering his freshman season at Illinois and the Illini could have one of the deeper secondaries in the Big Ten this season. North will more than likely be a backup unless there is an injury.
The fifth freshman who will make an impact this season is 3-star (Scout.com) defensive tackle Chris Jones from Jacksonville, Fla. Jones is looking to make an immediate impact at Illinois and will more than likely be one of the main backups for the Illini. Jones is 6'5", 260 lbs. and runs a 5.1 40. I think that Jones may actually be the sleeper of the group.
This is not one of Zook's best classes or even one of his deepest, but there are always recruits that perform better than their rating and better than the top players. College recruiting is nowhere near perfect.