With the 2022 NFL Draft season officially over, NFL scouts and coaches found promise in multiple Illinois players. The sheer competitiveness of the league has created a variety of trajectories for these NFL hopefuls. Here’s an in-depth look at their teams and how each player, drafted and undrafted, could earn their spot in the NFL.
Safety Kerby Joseph → Detroit Lions
As of May 3, there are seven other safeties on the roster. Since Kerby Joseph was one of the earlier draft picks (top 100), the Lions can expect Joseph to battle for the starting safety spot.
The 4-3 defense of Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn relies on the split-safety coverage on the field, free-safety and strong-safety. Joseph could fit into either role due to his athleticism and range.
Joseph is likely to get playing time regardless if he wins the starting role due to the lack of talent on the defense, however, the Lions are also hoping to use his abilities as a special teams player to their advantage.
“Kerby was another guy that’s got a lot of high upside, still developmental, only been playing the position for about a year, but has been a high-level special teams player,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said to The Detroit News. “Good rise and elite ball skills and can turn the football over.”
As long as Joseph continues to grow as a safety, he’s destined to find success with the Lions.
Offensive Tackle Vederian Lowe → Minnesota Vikings
Vederian Lowe has protected Illinois quarterbacks throughout his entire career at Illinois. At 6-feet-6-inches and over 315 pounds, he’s exactly the type of body you want at left tackle.
The Minnesota Vikings were ranked as one of the top five teams in protecting the quarterback, allowing on average 1.8 sacks per game throughout the 2021 season. With both their tackles under contract until at least the 2025 season, the drafting of Lowe only provides further depth to a proven position.
“He’s not a guy dependent on one scheme or another,” Vikings national scout Chisom Opara said. “He’s got enough athletic ability to function in a zone scheme, but also has the size and power to play downhill and move people off the line of scrimmage, so he’s a guy with an impressive background.”
Lowe will be fighting for the backup role and will be using his strength and physicality to keep him in the NFL until he can adjust to the speed of the talent around him and continue polishing his technique.
Center Doug Kramer → Chicago Bears
Doug Kramer has been a proven leader of the Illinois offensive line. While he was undersized for a center, he used his leverage to his advantage and let his play on the field speak for itself, earning himself a role as three-year captain at Illinois.
While the Bears quarterback has much to improve in regards to getting rid of the ball, the Bears offensive line wasn’t doing him many favors, ranking second to last in sacks allowed per game in the 2021 season.
Kramer was one of four offensive linemen selected in the final day of the draft, a move that Bears general manager Ryan Poles intended to bring up the base standard of the team.
“You can never have enough offensive linemen. It’s a position — at least from my experience — regardless of how it shakes out, it’s rare to finish a season with the starting five that you started the season with. So, anytime you can increase the volume of talent in that room, you’re getting better,” said Poles to Larry Mayer. “The other thing I wanted to make sure we did is just increase the competition as well. It’s human nature to relax when you feel there’s no threat to your job, so I want these young guys to come in and compete for jobs.”
While this may not mean that Kramer will be absolutely viable for the starting spot immediately, his upside provides a lot of promise. Kramer will have to prove himself early if he wants to make the roster and may be a future cornerstone for the Illinois offensive line.
Undrafted free agents:
Defensive tackle Roderick Perry II → Cleveland Browns
As an undrafted free agent, Roderick Perry II currently sits at the bottom of the depth chart and has a long road ahead if he wants to make the final roster.
The Browns’ 4-3 defensive scheme leaves space for two defensive tackles on the field, with two backups in case of injury. With a total of seven defensive tackles currently on the roster, the two former backups, Jordan Elliot and Taven Bryan, will look to maintain their move into the starting role after the losses of both Browns starters at defensive tackle.
By the end of training camp, Cleveland traditionally keeps three to four defensive tackles on the final 52-man roster, which leaves less spots for Perry II to compete for. The Browns also added Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey through the draft, giving Perry II a harder challenge.
His greatest weakness is his speed and anticipation of the snap, however, his strength and experience on the field should prove valuable come training camp.
Edge rusher Owen Carney Jr → Miami Dolphins
Owen Carney Jr. became a cornerstone of the Illinois defense after his move from defensive end to outside linebacker.
While his versatility could be an opportunity to increase his chances of making the team or practice squad, his lack of natural fit in either position may prove troublesome.
With plenty of proven starters in both positions, his chances to see playing time might be slim, but not impossible. If Carney Jr. can prove to his coaches that he can develop in either position it may allow him to squeak into a backup or practice squad spot.
Defensive back Tony Adams → New York Jets
After a rocky start to his Illinois career, Tony Adams quickly became one of the most recognizable names of the Illinois defense, having his best season last year. Adams recorded 47 solo tackles and 63 total tackles in 12 games.
The Jets headed into the draft needing a makeover at the defensive back position after being the third worst team in the NFL in terms of protecting the pass. While the Jets added Ahmad Gardner to become the top cornerback on the Jets, head coach Robert Salah knew that he needed more than just a single player to solve the problem.
Adams is one of four defensive backs signed as undrafted free agents and will aim to at least make the practice squad amidst multiple NFL veterans in competition for the starting safety roles.
Linebacker Jake Hansen → Houston Texans
While guiding the Illinois defense, Jake Hansen constantly proved himself throughout his time at Illinois, even despite the injuries that plagued him throughout his career.
Hansen will have to once again prove himself to newly hired head coach Lovie Smith, who coached Hansen when he was at the helm of the team. As long as Hansen can stay healthy and have promise in developing into a solid backup, he will have a chance at a practice spot.
His football instincts and IQ will be his greatest asset and he will have to rely on it heavily to match the level of play expected of him.
James McCourt → Los Angeles Chargers
Being a kicker in the NFL might be one of the hardest and most unforgiving positions to play. James McCourt may not have the best chance of taking the starting spot from veteran Dustin Hopkins, who had an 88.2% completion percentage in the 2021 season.
That being said, attending training camp with the Chargers and participating in preseason games will prove invaluable in establishing his abilities to become a quality kicker in the NFL.
With injuries to kickers always being possible, having the Chargers and other teams take a close look at his abilities to perform under-pressure, as he did at Illinois, may make him a quick call up if Hopkins or any other NFL kicker goes down with injury.
If McCourt is given a chance and performs consistently well, it’s probable that he could have a hold on a starting position for some time.
Quarterback Brandon Peters → Los Angeles Chargers
Brandon Peters never found true consistency at Illinois, but despite this, he can serve as a solid backup if teams need a few weeks for their starting quarterback to recover.
With the Chargers solidly going all in with starter Justin Herbert, they will look for a quarterback with similar play style as insurance. Throughout the season both quarterbacks showed their strong arms to make deep plays, ability to use their legs to escape the pocket and overall continued momentum for their respective teams.
Peters will have a chance to showcase his skills to beat out career NFL backup Chase Daniels, for the QB2 spot. If all else fails, he also has the opportunity to make the practice squad and continue to adapt his game to the NFL level.
Linebacker Khalan Tolson → Carolina Panthers
While at Illinois, Khalan Tolson was always able to gain meaningful playing time in the linebacker rotation as early as his sophomore season, constantly improving in his four years with Illinois.
Much like his fellow undrafted Illini, Tolson will have a tough time competing against the amount of depth that the Panthers have at linebacker.
With the Panthers in full-out rebuild, Tolson may be able to squeak through and take a backup role, using his sheer strength as a key feature. While injuries could prove worrisome for Tolson, if he shows his physicality early, he could have a shot at a practice squad or backup role.