Top 50 most important Illini: No. 43, James Knight

Top 50 most important Illini: No. 43, James Knight

Vitals: 5-10, 205, So., LB

Hometown: East St. Louis

High School: East St. Louis

Looking back at 2017: Knight was one of the 22 true freshmen to play last season and made his debut in the season-opening win against Ball State. He appeared in all 12 games and made one start at linebacker (against Wisconsin, where the East St. Louis product was ejected for targeting) while playing primarily on special teams. Knight finished his freshman season with three tackles and one quarterback hurry.

Looking ahead to 2018: Like most of the rest of the linebackers on the Illinois roster, Knight should easily find his way back on the field this coming season. The Illini need linebackers, and Knight has the added benefit of at least some experience under his belt and a little positional versatility to shift to a nickelback role if needed this fall.

Last year's ranking: No. 48