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Illinois Football: Defensive Back U?



Illinois Football: Defensive Back U?
Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon walks the NFL Draft Red Carpet before the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Football is becoming Defensive Back U.

Defensive Back University is certainly a lofty claim. Additionally, this is not to say that Illinois Football produces better defensive backs than Michigan or Alabama. The purpose of this post is to highlight the recent success of defensive backs that have come to the University of Illinois. This past weekend, three Illinois defensive backs were picks in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. This was no flash in a pan, however as there have been a few defensive backs who have made it to the NFL from Champaign.

Highlighting the foundation of Defensive Back U.

To start, I do think it’s important to notice that all of these players are Lovie Smith recruits. As much as it pains me to say, Lovie Smith and his staff deserve some credit for identifying prep prospects with NFL potential. As with all of his recruits, they were very much under the radar prospects. Devon Witherspoon, for example, almost had to attend junior college before enrolling at Illinois at the end of Summer Camp.

One of the first players from recent years that has made it into the NFL is Nate Hobbs. Hobbs was in Smith’s first recruiting class and has been starting games for the Las Vegas Raiders. Hobbs was a fifth round draft pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Kerby Joseph added to the tally in the 2022 draft. Joseph was a third round pick to the Detroit Lions who eventually started games. Joseph notably intercepted Aaron Rodgers 3 times in one game. Another DB is Tony Adams. Adams was undrafted, however latched on the New York Jets roster.

The 2023 studs.

As stated above, Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown and Quan Martin all participated in the 2023 draft. The Seattle Seahawks drafted Witherspoon fifth overall which was an amazing story. The Washington Commanders picked Martin in the 2nd round, while the Philadelphia Eagles took Sydney Brown. The fact that three Illinois players in general went in the first three rounds was a feat in their own, however since they are all DB’s, the phrase DB U comes to mind.

Illinois has some promising young backs that will hopefully develop. Taz Nicholson is a veteran that will attempt to make a Witherspoon-esque jump. Younger players include Matthew Bailey, Elijah McCantos, Xavier Scott and Tyson Rooks. Bielema and his staff have quite the sell now to young defensive backs, and it looks like they are already on their way to building on the name “Defensive Back U.”

Alex is the Owner of, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is also the lead content creator and lead editor of all articles on Armchair Illini. He has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS Sports and more.