There are hundreds of college football players annually that enter their names into the NFL Draft. Over the last decade there has been an increase in Chicago-area prospects who have thrown their names into the proverbial NFL Draft hat, and many of them have found sustained careers in the league. The 2019 NFL Draft will be no different. Another round of players from the FBS schools that call Chicago home will be looking to have their names called at the end of the month.
What will make this year’s draft interesting, however, is that the 2019 rookie class may have to compete for jobs with recently signed players from the former Alliance of American Football in some cases. Either way, training camp and the preseason games this summer will be fun to watch. But here’s a look at the top prospects from each local institution that are hoping to hear their names called in Nashville from April 25th-27th….
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson–
Thorson is arguably the best signal caller in Wildcats history. He left Evanston as the all-time leader in passing yards (10,731), passing touchdowns (61), and pass completions (991). He’s also fourth all-time in rushing touchdowns (27), 10th in carries (362), and is ninth among QB’s in rushing yards (408). He’s a mobile, strong-armed quarterback who has displayed grit, toughness, and leadership during his four years at NU.
Nowhere was that toughness more evident than being able to play in the 2018 season opener after tearing the ACL in his knee in the 2017 Music City Bowl. He needs to improve his accuracy slightly (completed less than 60-percent his passes), and he’ll have to get used to taking more snaps under center as he was mostly in the shotgun in Northwestern’s spread offense. If selected, he’ll be first Wildcat quarterback to be picked since Trevor Siemian (now with the New York Jets) was drafted by the Denver Broncos back in 2015.
Projection: While Thorson is ranked as Northwestern’s top NFL prospect, he’s considered among the second tier of this year’s group of quarterbacks. He’ll definitely start off as backup, and could potentially be groomed as the heir apparent for a franchise.
Northwestern cornerback Montre Hartage-
The Wildcats are one of the better defensive teams in college football (held six opponents under the 20-point mark in 2018). But because most of their attention goes to the front seven, Hartage and the secondary didn’t always get noticed. But Hartage is ready to take on receivers at the next level as evidenced by the 172 career tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 9 interceptions, and 26 pass deflections that he posted over the previous four seasons. Hartage held is own against some of the best pass catchers in college football and has very solid coverage skills. Run defense is where he will be tested as he mostly played against pass heavy offenses.
Projection: In today’s NFL there’s always a need for defensive backs. I see Hartage starting off as a good nickel corner and working his way up from there.
Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery-
He’s listed as Notre Dame’s top prospect overall, and the sixth best prospect at his position. Tillery has the speed of a linebacker (4.9 40-yard dash) as he has made a career off of making an offensive lineman’s job difficult. Tillery was a starter for his final three of four years in South Bend and finished with 133 career tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. What’s even more impressive are his numbers against some of the Fighting Irish’s biggest rivals….
He has 15 career tackles against Navy, five career sacks against Stanford, 54 tackles and a sack against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Notre Dame plays four ACC teams per year), and 15 tackles with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against Big Ten opposition. Tillery has proven himself on college football’s biggest stage against some of the best competition in the nation.
Projection: Tillery is ready to be a starter in the National Football League. And with his size (6-foot-6, 295 pounds), speed, and production, Tillery can play in both the 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. Tillery will be among the first defensive lineman selected.
Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love-
Love is among the top five prospects at his position for good reason. He’s one of the best cover corners coming out of the college ranks, he can play the run, and he’s durable as he’s played a 12-game season every year that he’s worn the Fighting Irish uniform. He was also a difference maker for this team as evidenced by last year’s College Football Playoff loss to Clemson. The Tigers were struggling to move the ball the early going of that game as Love was making plays all over the field. After Love suffered a concussion in the second quarter, Clemson’s offense exploded for a 20-point outburst and never looked back en route past the Irish and onto their second national title in three seasons.
Many believe that wouldn’t have been the case had Love not gotten injured. Thankfully he’s healthy now and he’s leaving The Golden Dome after just three seasons after registering 176 career tackles, six tackles for loss, five interceptions, 39 deflected passes, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns.
Projection: Not only will Love be one of the first players drafted at his position, but he is ready to start in the NFL from day one.
Both Tillery and Love are among 10 Notre Dame prospects in this year’s draft. And as we all know, the Fighting Irish have quite the history at this event.
Northern Illinois standouts Sutton Smith (DE) and Max Sharping (OT)-
These are the only NIU players in this draft but they are also the most important players from DeKalb on their respective sides of the ball. Both athletes are All-Mid-American Conference honorees, Smith is a two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year, and Sharping was named among USA Today’s top ten offensive linemen entering last season. Both men are among the bigger reasons why the Huskies won their fifth Mid-American Conference title last year.
Smith is one of the most productive defensive players in NIU history. He posted 139 total tackles, 58.5 tackles for loss, 30 sacks, four pass deflections, seven forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns. Not bad for someone who began his career as a running back. Sharping on the other hand is a fierce blocker who anchored an offensive line that paved the way for a Huskies team that scored 47 total touchdowns, and collected 4,605 yards of offense.
Projection: Just as USA Today listed him in their top ten, Sharping is also top ten at his specific position. He will be a day one starter for sure. Smith on the other hand projects to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 as opposed to the 4-3 that he played in for the Huskies. Which makes since considering his size (6-foot-1, 237 pounds). But he will be a regular contributor in the NFL.
Illinois offensive guard Mike Allegretti-
As the only Fighting Illini player in this year’s draft (Reggie Corbin decided to return to school for his final year), Allegretti is ranked 35th out of 40 guards that have entered this year’s draft. The 23-year-old has pushed through some tough times in Champaign, but he contributed to a line that helped guide last year’s Illini offense which gained 4,925 total yards and made 36 trips to the end zone. He was a leader in the Illini locker room and deserve a ton of credit for sticking with the team through four consecutive losing seasons.
Projection: He’s definitely proven himself worthy of an NFL opportunity but based on his prospect rankings, Illinois’ struggles during his time there, and the stiff competition at his position, Allegretti projects to land somewhere between a day three pick and an undrafted free agent.