After an 8-5 season in 2022 under Bret Bielema, who are the top Illinois prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft? These Illinois scouting reports break down the team’s most likely-to-be-drafted players, including potential first-rounder Devon Witherspoon.
Illinois 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Reports
Alex Palczewski, OL
Strengths: Massive offensive tackle who blocks with good lean, stays square, and anchors in pass protection. Quickly gets out to the second level and jolts linebackers with tremendous hand punch. Patient, keeps his head on a swivel, and shows outstanding blocking vision. Keeps his feet moving, plays with toughness, and blocks with a nasty attitude.
Weaknesses: Stiff and not a natural knee bender. Doesn’t sink his butt at the line of scrimmage. Plays like an average athlete. Only effective in a small area.
Overall: Palczewski was a consistent offensive lineman at Illinois and comes with outstanding size as well as growth potential. He’s a smart football player but an average athlete who will likely end up on the practice squad next summer.
Chase Brown, RB
Strengths: Super-productive running back who has displayed consistent progress in his game. Patient, waits for blocks to develop, and displays outstanding vision. Finds the open lanes, picks his way through the traffic, and consistently runs upfield. Quick-footed, darts around defenders, or piles and works runs.
Gets a lot of momentum going, runs with authority, and does not go down without a fight. Plays with reckless abandon. Outstanding pass catcher out of the backfield who tracks the ball in the air, adjusts to the throw, and makes the catch in stride. Follows blocks everywhere on the field whenever the ball is in his hands.
Weaknesses: Despite his 40 time at the Combine, he plays to one speed and cannot get around the perimeter. Not a ball carrier who is going to move the pile and doesn’t show much power in his game.
Overall: Brown was a terrific running back for Illinois, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and catching 27 passes last year. He’s not a power-ball carrier, yet could serve as a situational RB who can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
Devon Witherspoon, CB
Strengths: Tough, feisty cornerback with outstanding ball skills. Plays with reckless abandon and a violent attitude. Instinctive, stays step for step with opponents on crossing patterns, and tracks the pass in the air. Displays a nice move to the throw, has a closing burst, and physically beats down opponents to defend the pass.
Battles opponents throughout the route, stays on the receiver’s hip out of breaks, and lays out to knock away passes. Sells out making the tackle, wraps up, and brings down bigger opponents in the open field.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Weaknesses: Must improve his footwork pedaling in reverse. Occasionally slow in transition and gets beaten downfield. Deep speed is a concern.
Overall: Witherspoon is an instinctive CB who plays physical and productive football. He broke up 26 passes the past two seasons and continually came up big for Illinois. Witherspoon can be used in bump-and-run or zone coverage, though teams may have to protect him as he lacks elite speed.
Want more information on Witherspoon? Here’s our expanded scouting report and draft profile: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois | NFL Draft Scouting Report
Jartavius Martin, DB
Strengths: Productive cornerback who is watching his draft stock soar. Effectively diagnoses plays, shows ability in man coverage, and is effective facing the action. Displays good route recognition, stays on the receiver’s hip, and is effective backed off the line of scrimmage.
Keeps the action in front of him, tracks the pass in the air, and has an explosive burst to the ball out of his plant. Effectively times pass defenses, wraps up tackling, and gives effort defending screen throws.
Weaknesses: Indecisive and loses focus. Slow transitioning with opponents when placed over the slot receiver. Inconsistent during Senior Bowl practices.
Overall: Despite producing the prior four seasons, Martin was overlooked by scouts entering 2022. He responded with a terrific campaign that included three interceptions and 11 PBUs, which really put him on the scouting radar. Martin comes with solid size, but he’s limited to playing in a zone system or backed off the line of scrimmage.
Want more information on Martin? Here’s our expanded scouting report and draft profile: Jartavius Martin, CB, Illinois | NFL Draft Scouting Report
Sydney Brown, DB
Strengths: Intense safety with a complete game. Instinctive, stays with assignments, and battles bigger opponents to defend the throw. Flashes on the scene, doesn’t shy away from contact, and plays with reckless abandon.
Mixes it up with opponents throughout the route, tracks the pass in the air, and displayed exceptional ball skills during Senior Bowl practices. Fires upfield to defend the run, squares into ball handlers, and wraps up tackling. Displays solid range in center field.
Weaknesses: Not forceful on the blitz. Gets too amped up on occasion and will bite on play-action or ball fakes. Lacks great recovery speed.
Overall: Brown was a productive player all four seasons he took the field at Illinois and showed consistent improvement in his game. He had three outstanding days of practice at the Senior Bowl and showed cornerback ball skills during drills as well as scrimmages. Brown’s making a rise up draft boards and would be best in a zone system that occasionally places him over the slot receiver.
Want more information on Brown? Here’s our expanded scouting report and draft profile: Sydney Brown, S, Illinois | NFL Draft Scouting Report
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