Illini Recruiting Hot Board: Top DT Targets to Watch For Illinois’ 2021 Class

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Illinois football program isn't exactly hurting for defensive tackle talent in the few years and the recruiting results are showcasing this fact.

The only defensive tackle set to leave the Illini after the 2020 season is California graduate transfer Chinedu Udeogu and are expecting big jumps from a trio of juniors including Calvin Avery, new junior college transfer Anthony Shipton and Jamal Woods.

While questions still linger on the idea of which of these underclassmen without much experience will emerge for a majority of the playing time, unless all members of that previously mentioned trio are unable to handle a starting role, the Illini aren’t in immediate need for interior defensive linemen help. With newly-hired defensive line coaches Jimmy Lindsey and Al Davis trying to slowly build the Illinois brand in the southeast portion of the country specifically Atlanta, Tennessee and Alabama, it might be good news that Lovie Smith’s staff isn’t in a desperation mode for immediate help.

Since May 1, Illinois football has seen its number of commitments in its 2021 recruiting class rise from one to 10. Illini Now/Sports Illustrated wants to give you some names to watch as we get to the summer months and Lovie Smith’s program attempts to fill out what should be its largest class in recent years.

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DEFENSIVE TACKLES

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Zion Rucker - Smyrna (Tenn.) High School, 6-4, 260, Three Stars by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com - Offer List: Illinois, Vanderbilt and Kentucky,

Rucker is the primary target for newly-hired defensive tackles coach Al Davis. Rucker is a developmental prospect that will likely be highly valuable to the early career tutelage of the Illini strength and conditioning staff led by Lou Hernandez. What is intriguing about Rucker is the idea that instead of being a big body that is hard to move, he might be able to get vertically up the field to cause havoc in the opposing backfield. Rucker’s highlight tape shows an effective set of fundamentals where he’s always following the football but doesn’t let the spread-option eye candy of a mobile quarterback fool him into missing his assignment. Rucker has shown an ability in high school games and in camps that he can shed blockers and use his lower body to access the natural power of his body. If Davis is able to get Rucker to commit, he’ll instantly build his credibility to recruit in the southeast at a relatively high level. 

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