Top 50 most important Illini: No. 46, Jake Hansen

Top 50 most important Illini: No. 46, Jake Hansen

Best of ... Illini
No. 46:
Jake Hansen, LB

Why he’s important: Illinois lost a key component of its defense last season in Hardy Nickerson, who is now trying to make the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster. Tre Watson and Julian Jones will likely fill out the other two spots, with Watson the favorite to shift to middle linebacker and fill Nickerson’s void. But Hansen has a chance to contribute. And if he does, this particular ranking might turn into one that looks a bit low if the Florida native produces this season. Hansen played in all 12 games last season, but mainly on special teams. He did start, though, as a true freshman against Minnesota with Watson having to sit the first half of that game after he was ejected the week before at Michigan for targeting. Hansen finished with eight tackles last season. Lovie Smith and his coaching staff trusted him enough to get a start against the Gophers. If he continues to progress, he could see the field more in 2017, although Dele Harding and Del’Shawn Phillips, among others, are also vying for playing time at linebacker.

Fast fact: The former Iowa State commit and kinesiology major is the son of Shad Hansen, a former BYU linebacker who compiled 408 career tackles, the most in school history, when he played for the Cougars from 1989 to 1992.

Last year’s ranking: N/A

Previous rankings: No. 50, DL Kendrick Green; No. 49, QB Cam Miller; No. 48, DB James Knight; No. 47, DL Lere Oladipo

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