The work on the recruiting trail for 2016 is complete, so barring a few late tweaks or transfers, rosters across the Big Ten are pretty much set with national signing day in the books. The ESPN.com reporting crew is taking a look at what each team in the conference looks like now with a new class on the way, starting with the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Team’s position of strength: Wide receivers
The biggest pickup of the offseason for coach Bill Cubit won’t be anybody he landed on national signing day. The return of a healthy Mikey Dudek might just be one of the most important, impactful additions in the league and will certainly provide a huge boost for the Illini as they try to get back to a bowl game. It makes the stable of wideouts look even more deep and dangerous. Desmond Cain and Malik Turner have proven they have the talent to be useful threats for quarterback Wes Lunt, and now with Dudek in the fold again, the wideouts figure to lead the way as the team’s top unit.
Team’s biggest need heading into signing day: Defensive backs
The Illini showed signs of improvement on defense last season, but there is still plenty of work to be done and it is going to take some new faces to complete the rebuilding job on that side of the ball. Illinois was hit hard with the loss of three starters in the secondary, which will provide a bit of a challenge for the program as it tries to retool after finishing a respectable fifth in the Big Ten against the pass last season. Overall, Illinois has to replace five of its seven most productive tacklers, and no longer having Clayton Fejedelem, V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence around will pose a challenge.
How Illinois addressed the need: A pair of safeties
A class that ranked No. 71 overall isn’t going to move the needle much, and it would certainly appear to be one that will rely more on development instead of providing an instant impact for the Illini. But Cubit did land signatures from a pair of three-star safeties who could help fill the need in the defensive backfield for Illinois. In-state product Stanley Green has both a versatile set of skills and decent size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. Along with Evan Jones, who was plucked out of Georgia, the Illini did well to try to plug a couple holes heading into the fall.
Biggest need remaining: Defensive linemen
The Illini are still in the market for impact players in the trenches, and in particular they could use a couple pass-rushers capable of disrupting opposing quarterbacks more often. Only Rutgers sacked the quarterback less than Illinois did last season when it finished with just 19, and that’s clearly an area where the defense is going to continue to make strides -- both in terms of personnel and performance. New signee Izon Pulley has some upside thanks to impressive size that could allow him to exceed his three-star projection, but Illinois is still in need of more players who can shine up front.