Looks Like University Of Illinois - Luke Ford

Jan 20, 2019

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I think I'm all caught up now. It seems silly to be writing this one more than two weeks after Ford announced his transfer, but that's how it works around here. When I have time to sit down and write, I do, and sometimes that means I don't catch up on posts I "owe" until weeks later. Remember the football Signing Day Breakdown in April last year? That was fun.

For Luke Ford.. this is a strange one to write. On one hand, we landed a transfer who was ranked 51st in the 2018 recruiting class. The last time we brought in top-100 players for football was 2009 (Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green), and here we are with this class that has Marquez Beason and Isaiah Williams and then we add Luke Ford to the mix. It's rather insane.

On the other hand, I'm an Illinois fan, and every Illinois tight end has been underutilized since Ron Turner was here, and so I find it difficult to get over-the-top excited about a tight end. I got excited about Jon Davis and then we used him about 1/4th as much as we should have. Matt LaCosse had 24 receptions for the Denver Broncos this year - he had 38 receptions total in four years at Illinois. 2014 Camp Rantoul, here are all these NFL scouts gathered around the tight end workouts to get a look at LaCosse... and we barely used him.

Catches by tight ends in Rod Smith's offense this past season? 11. Nine catches by Daniel Barker and two from Austin Roberts. It's been an invisible position in Champaign for nearly 20 years. Iowa? Iowa bases their offense around tight ends. They might have two tight ends drafted in the first round of the NFL draft in a few months. Illinois? We just never use the tight ends.

I don't know what to do with that. You could say "well, Illinois just never had talented tight ends to throw to", but that's not true. Again, LaCosse just caught 24 NFL passes. You could say "sure, but there's a new offense in town", but that offense just tossed less than 1 pass per game to the tight ends. I guess you could say "but this offense, this specific one right here, this offense has yet to have a tight end like this to throw to". That's true.

I mean, no Illini offense has had a tight end like this if we're just looking at physical attributes. Ford is shockingly fast for his size, shockingly agile for his size - a true freak athlete. I remember hearing about him at the junior combine during one of the senior all star games (I think it was the US Army All American Game?). They bring in juniors to work out (the seniors are playing in the game), and Ford opened eyes as a junior.

Not long after that, he started climbing the rankings (and gathering an insane number of offers). He almost committed to Illinois, then did commit to Arkansas, then decommitted from Arkansas, then seemingly almost committed several other places. He named Alabama his leader but didn't commit. He visited Texas officially and supposedly was ready to "pull the trigger" but didn't, then he visted Auburn and rumors swirled of an Auburn/Alabama battle, and finally he committed to Georgia. And now, after six months at Georgia, a transfer to Illinois.

So this is the type of player we don't see very often. The type of athlete that Ohio State and Oklahoma are built upon. When you watch the College Football Playoff and you say to yourself "do we even play the same SPORT?", this is why. It's because they win recruiting battles for Luke Fords (and Marquez Beasons and Isaiah Williamses). So it's a huge deal to land a kid like that in Champaign.

I just wish it was at a position other than tight end. I know this is just my deal (my decade-plus tight end hangup), but it's the main thing I see when I look at Luke Ford. I've built up hope so many times that "this is the year we finally utilize the tight end" only to see it not happen that I'm pretty much at "I'll believe it when I see it" now.

I'll put it this way. I'm very intrigued to see how we use him. There's no way we take an athlete like this and don't utilize him on the field, but we didn't see much tight end stuff this past season, so maybe... split him out wide with the wide receivers? Line him up as an h-back and let him sneak out into the flat? I don't think we'll use him as a prototypical tight end very much (could be wrong), so I'm interested to see how we use him.

Because we'd better use him. 15+ seasons of "will we EVER throw to the tight end?" has to come to an end at some point, right?

Tom Cruises. He's ranked higher than Beason and Williams, and both of them got 5 Cruises, but I don't see him as that type of recruit. He's one of the best athletes we've recruited in 20 years, but Tom Cruise ratings take into account "compared to the other players we're bringing in, what kind of impact can a player like this have?". I boosted Jartavius Martin because I thought he was exactly the defensive back Lovie needed. So please don't flinch when I lower the Cruises of a transfer who I'm not sure how we'll use.

Luke Ford - an impressive, yet probably not what you were expecting, four Tom Cruises


DB50 on January 20, 2019 @ 06:49 AM

I have a question for you Robert. When was the last time Illinois has had a tight end with Ford’s potential? If Louis Dorsey had taken care of business, what would his sophomore year stats have been in Smith’s offense? Freshman year he started 4 games, was in 7, was targeted 33 times, caught 15 passes for 225 yards & 2 TDS. I realize, different coordinator, but a player with potential. Illinois gets a transfer who was the number 1 player in the state a year ago and top 50 nationally, 5*, and you assume Rod Smith will utilize him like Matt Lacosse was at Illinois. With all due respect, it’s “apples & oranges”. Matt was 523 nationally & has done a great job of maximizing his talent after going undrafted. If Luke Ford maximizes his, we’ looking potential 1st round. I firmly believe, especially with JT staying at Miami, when Ford finds the field for the Illini, he will be more than window dressing in the offense. This is just my humble opinion.

BelieveInIllinois on January 20, 2019 @ 10:01 AM

Friendly reminder: We need a LLUOIpost for Richie Petibon. Luke Ford is a 5 Tom Cruiser in my opinion. He will be used because he can block, run, and catch.

Robert on January 20, 2019 @ 11:02 PM

I’m waiting for an official announcement on Petitbon before writing that LLUOI. So far, I’ve only seen the AL.com report saying he would transfer to Illinois “per sources”. I generally wait for the player or the school to announce it before writing the LLUOI.

bradidas on January 20, 2019 @ 11:28 PM

Not sure that even the school announcement is safe! You'd have been writing up that Jeff Thomas LLUOI!

deadguy on January 20, 2019 @ 10:13 AM

Great write up! I've been waiting for this one. I hope you do one on Petitbon as well.

As far as Ford goes, I'm less excited about this one than his ranking would indicate. He just doesn't look that athletic to me in film that I've seen so I'm happy that you wrote that he's athletic and agile for his size. I'm not sure what I was expecting and maybe I've been spoiled by watching Cumberland and Dorsey but I didn't find him to be that freakish in terms of athleticism. I wonder if that's part of the reason why he only had one catch this year at Georgia? He'll create match up problems but I wonder if he has the athleticism to create much separation? I'm sure he can since he performed well on the camp circuit and had that ranking for a reason but I remain skeptical. At worst he will be a quality blocking TE. I'm hoping we go full service academy and start running 90% of the time with IW in the backfield anyways but that's another topic.

I remember when Lacosse first played as a Freshman and someone close to where I was sitting asked why an OL was lined up as a WR? I had to laugh. He was targeted on that play but the ball was overthrown and he couldn't bring it in. Kind of hard to overthrow a guy with that wingspan but that's how we waste the talents of our TEs.

illiniranger on January 21, 2019 @ 07:42 AM

Ford's greatest asset to Rod Smith's offense is his versatility. He can line up as an inline TE, as the wing back, as a slot WR, and as an outside WR. This will allow us to put 3 WRs and Ford on the field, which means we can go uptempo and move Ford all over the place jumping between 10 and 11 personnel formations and never have to sub. Which means the defense won't be allowed to sub, which is very important for our uptempo style.

Ford will probably get more targets then what we've done based off play action, especially if we line him up at wing back. i'd also look for him to get more opportunities on the RPO pop pass look when he's at inline TE. I also suspect there will be some specific plays for him lined up at outside WR near the RZ.

thumpasaurus on January 21, 2019 @ 08:58 AM


*Lukes Ford *Marquezes Beason *Isaiahs Williams

I’ll die on this plural hill

GilThorpe on January 21, 2019 @ 10:30 AM

are you sure ? I'll have to ask my two brothers-in-law about this

Bear8287 on January 21, 2019 @ 12:55 PM

Inviting your in-laws over, are you? (Hmmm... kind of sounds like Yoda.)

ahamm445 on January 22, 2019 @ 02:47 PM

Since you mentioned underutilized tight ends, I am interested to know if you remember Ken Boyle Jr from the Turner days and what your honest assessment of him as a player. Hes my uncle but I was only 7-10 years old when he played, so ive alwasy been curious to hear why he didnt play much aside from what my own family members would say; I.e. "Turner wants an additional tackle, not a receiving tight end".

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