19 days to Camp Rantoul
Counting down the 50 most important Illini.
No. 19: Kenny Nelson, DE
Why he’s important: Backed up Tim Kynard last season and could possibly start this fall. Detroit native has yet to start a game at Illinois, and redshirted the 2011 season, but will have to fend off junior college transfer Jihad Ward and possibly Paul James for the starting nod. Nelson played in the first 11 games last year before not seeing action in the regular-season finale against Northwestern. Nelson compiled 16 tackles, but no tackles for loss or any sacks last season. He did recover two fumbles — one against Nebraska and one against Washington — to tie Houston Bates for the team lead in that category. Nelson has the length and size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) to possibly create some disruption along the line of scrimmage and in the opposing backfield. No Illinois defensive end had more than 3 1/2 sacks last season, explaining why quarterbacks could sit back and pick apart the Illinois secondary in multiple games. If Nelson could possibly double that output, 2014 would qualify as an immensely successful season for him.
Fast fact: Nelson wasn’t highly recruited out of Cass Tech. He picked Illinois ahead of an offer from Western Michigan a week before Illinois beat Baylor at the 2010 Texas Bowl.
Last year’s ranking: N/A
Tomorrow: No. 18
No. 20: Justin Hardee