I will be breaking this series into parts as I notice more recruits that are deserving of this list.
Qualifying for this list: Everyone has their own qualifications to be classified as underrated. Therefore, there is no exact way to make this list. Factors such as amount of offers, quality of offers and attention from other media outlets are factored in, but at the end of the day its about if the athlete can compete at the D1 level or not. After evaluating hundreds and hundreds of players, these are some of the players who I believe are the most underrated in the Illinois high school football recruiting landscape.
Cover Photo Credit: Tom Hauck – Student Sports
You can find 2017 Underrated Part 1 HERE
East St. Louis
East St. Louis, IL
Wt: 205 lbs
Commitment status: Undecided
Photo Credit: Tom Hauck – Student Sports
James Knight (LPI #10 DB) started on varsity for East St. Louis a few games his sophomore year, but really stood out his junior year in 2015. The unfortunate thing for Knight and the rest of his East St. Louis Flyers teammates was that they had to forfeit their last 4 games in 2015 because of a teacher’s strike. Knight is back to lead many others returning on the East St. Louis defense.
This is the type of guy you don’t want to mess with (Seriously, just look at how muscular he is in the picture above). For a DB, he’s got good size (5’11” 205lbs), is very strong (can bench press over 350lbs), is tough as nails and hits as hard as anyone in this class. On film, Knight routinely has his way with opposing offenses. Judging by the fact that he can bench over 350lbs you may think that he is very top heavy and lacks mobility, but that is most certainly not the case. Knight is not lightening fast, but is quick. His very strong lower body, powered by his tree trunk like thighs, allows him to accelerate quickly. His movement is very fluid through all the way through his hips which allows him to cut and change direction on a dime. When tackling, Knight regularly accelerates through holes in the offensive line, throws off blockers like its his day job and almost always squares up his tackle to put the ball carrier on the ground. He usually plays up in the box as an outside linebacker for the Flyers, but will shift full time to strong safety in college.
I reached out to Knight and he informed me that he has only 1 offer from Western Michigan. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I am going to guess teams may be a bit scared off of him because he’s 5’11” 205lbs and plays as an outside linebacker in high school. Unfortunately I missed Knight at the Nike Open, but with what I’ve seen in him otherwise: strength, agility, tackling and tenacity I believe he can be a productive non-power 5 FBS player likely at the strong safety position. I hope that college coaches also keep in mind that his already impressive film from 2015 is ONLY 4 games. I would have loved to have seen a full season from this dude, but I didn’t have to because I’m already sold on him. I think he can be a starter in a non-power 5 school and I’m sure the Broncos in Kalamazoo are licking their chops hoping another school doesn’t bite on him.
Wt: 170 lbs
Commitment status: Undecided
Photo Courtesy – Varsity Views
Damien Williams (LPI #6 DB) stepped into the varsity spotlight for the first time last year as a junior and helped Bradley-Bourbonnais to the 7A state semi-finals. Standing at 6’0″ with long arms, Williams is the latest in what is becoming an ever growing trend of long cornerbacks.
On film, Williams is very unpredictable (in a good way). He continuously does a good job keeping the receivers guessing by mixing it up pre-snap. Specifically, Williams will sometimes play press coverage and jam a receiver at the line, sometimes he will play off the receiver or sometimes he will play off the receiver until right before the ball is snapped then play press at the last instance. Williams unpredictability constantly gave opposing receivers fits last season. #10 also isn’t afraid to get physical with the receivers and does a good job always using his hands to either knock a receiver off his route or just to get good body placement to defend a pass. In coverage, Williams shows great anticipation and instincts by always knowing where the ball is and always putting himself in a good position to defend. While he isn’t as muscular as James Knight above, he is still strong and will continue to get bigger at the college level once he hits the weight-room. This strength will really help him stay physical against bigger and faster college receivers as Williams will continue to shove them off their routes just as he does in high school. Williams also displays great athletic ability in high-pointing balls for interceptions or knocking them away for incompletions.
Williams is currently sitting on two D1 offers from South Florida and Alabama-Birmingham. He picked these offers up this summer so schools are finally starting to take notice of him and I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams nabbed a few more offers after schools have a chance to see his early season tape. I couldn’t tell you why teams are overlooking him, but if I had to guess why teams are late to the Damien Williams party, I would have to say his fellow DB and Iowa commit Camron Harrell (LPI #3 DB) may have something to do with it. I think Williams, like James Knight above, is very deserving of more FBS offers. Williams will need to hit the weight room in college, but has the length, cover skills and the potential to be an impact player in a few years for a non power 5 team.