Back with another program the Giants' scouts repeatedly visited: The Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois has produced quite a few interesting prospects the last few years, such is Whitney Mercilus, Mikel Leshure, Corey Luiget, and Martez Wilson.
Before I get started, I should note that linebacker Jonathan Brown stated that he would be returning to school for his senior season. That's why I didn't cover him despite his draft eligibility.
Terry Hawthorne (CB, 6'0” - 190) – A somewhat below the-radar prospect, Hawthorne is quickly becoming one of my favorites. A converted wide receiver, Hawthorne boasts impressive athleticism and is a natural ballhawk, putting his WR skills to work when the ball is in the air. Hawthorne posesses merely adequate size, but plays bigger than advertised, and is very physical on the blitz and in run support. Aggressive wrap-up tackler, but also has fluid hips and a nice backpedal you want to see in a cover corner. His mix of physicality and athleticism would suggest that he can hold his own against most outside receivers in man or zone coverage, as well as slide inside and cover the slot. He might find himself outmatched by the bigger receivers in tight man coverage because of his less than exceptional size.
Akeem Spence (DT, 6'1” - 305) – A prototype 3-tech with good natural leverage, nice flexibility, good burst off the ball, and a nice motor. Strong and quick, he flashes the ability to split double-teams and drive single blockers into the backfield. However, Spence needs to work on his pad level, as he had a tendency to get upright off the snap, negating a lot of his quickness and leverage. He was a versatile defender for the Illini, playing multiple DT positions and alignments, but he looks most natural as a 3-tech in their 43 front. Spence is a natural run defender, with good awareness for plugging holes and recognizing running lanes. On the flip side, he's a bit of an underachiever as a pass-rusher, recording only 3.5 sacks in his career. That could be a result of sharing the line with former teammates Corey Luiget and Whitney Mercilus (I still think that's an awesome name for a football player), but it is also a result of his spotty pad level. If he Spence can polish his technique and put his natural leverage and power to work consistently, Spence could prove to be a steal.
Micheal Buchanan (DE, 6'5” - 240) - A Tall, long, and lean defender, Buchanan looks more like a 34 outside linebacker than a 43 DE. Despite this, Buchanan played both Left and Right DE positions in Illinois' 43 set, and even played at 5-tech in their 34 set. Excellent athleticism and length, he is very quick off the ball, using his agility to beat his blockers and break into the backfield. He's also adept at stopping his rush and getting his hands up to clog passing lanes. Perhaps because of how effective he is at beating blockers with speed, quickness, and agility, Buchanan doesn't seem to be eager to physically engage with linemen. Its not clear at this point if he can add weight without sacrificing his athleticism. If he can't, he'll likely be limited to a 34 OLB role. Looks like he could be a post-combine riser, and could rocket up draft boards if scouts/GM's think he can add weight and still keep that quick-twitch athleticism.
Hugh Thornton (G/T, 6'4” - 310) – A fairly versatile lineman Thornton played both Guard and Tackle for the Illini. There isn't much out there on either of their draft-eligible linemen, but from what I've been able to find, Thornton plays with a mean streak, is a capable run and pass blocker, and is Illinois' best lineman.
Graham Pocic (C, 6'5” - 305) – Another under-the radar offensive lineman (ie: Tough to find info on). Pocic is a 3 year starter on the Illinois OL, and has started at Center, Guard, and Tackle. He had something of a mixed bag this year playing against high-level DT's (from what I can tell he struggled against Kawann Short, but had a nice game against John Hankins). He might have issues playing against quicker defensive tackles, but has been complimented on his strength and tenacity.
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