Top 50 most important Illini: No. 24, Dele Harding

Top 50 most important Illini: No. 24, Dele Harding

Vitals: 6-1, 230, LB

Hometown: Elkton, Md.

High School: Eastern Christian

Looking back at 2017: Injuries cut Harding's season short for the second year in a row after he missed four games last fall. His other eight, though, saw him get five starts when a rash of injuries to the Illinois linebacker corps opened up more opportunity. Harding finished sixth on the team with 32 tackles despite missing four games, and he was second on the team with four special teams tackles — a role he knew well after playing primarily on special teams as a true freshman in 2016.

Looking ahead to 2018: Harding entered the 2017 season behind Tre Watson at middle linebacker on Illinois' depth chart. Watson has since transferred to Maryland, and the Illini have some real depth concerns at linebacker. Harding's experience — not to mention his hard hitting ability — put him toward the top of the list of options for defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson.

Last year's ranking: N/A