Safety depth gets a boost with Illini commit Jaheim Clarke

One of the biggest issues for the Illinois football team as of late is stopping opposing teams from passing the ball.

The Illini used to be a decent team at pass defense. In 2015 and 2016, we were a top 20 program in pass defense, finishing No. 19 and no. 12 in the country, respectively. But that great pass coverage stopped over the past five seasons.

Illinois’ best pass coverage ranking in the past half-decade came in 2017 when we ranked No. 32 in the country. Our bottom was in 2018 when the program finished No. 105 in the nation. But this ugly trend is starting to change.

In the first season under Bret Bielema, Illinois managed to finish No. 39 in the country in pass defense, only giving up 215.2 yards per game through the air. That number should continue to improve if we continue to land players like Jaheim Clarke.

Clarke is a 6-foot-1, 164-pound safety from Riverdale High School and resides in Fort Myers, Florida. He is rated as a three-star recruit and ranked as the No. 1117 player in the class of 2023. Clarke is also the No. 89 safety in the country and the No. 164 players coming out of Florida.

This past weekend, numerous recruits took an official visit to Champaign to see what the Illinois program was all about. Clark was one of those visitors, and he liked what he saw so much that he decided to make a commitment to Illinois on Sunday.

Jaheim Clarke brings much-needed depth at safety for the Illinois football program.

Illinois should be fine at safety for the upcoming 2022 campaign. We have decent talent covering the back of the defense.

I really like Sydney Brown and think he could end up being an All-Big Ten first or second-team player. He should be on the radar of some of the voters for the All-American teams as well. I also think the Illini have some other okay pieces, but there aren’t a ton of proven players at safety.

Brown is going to be a senior this upcoming season. That means he will be departing heading into the 2023 campaign. That is why landing a player like Clarke is a big deal.

Illinois has three defensive backs joining the program for the 2022 campaign. I will be interested in seeing where each of them gets slotted and if they move around thanks to a lack of depth. I do think Bielema and the Illinois coaching staff probably need to focus a little more on safety depth moving forward as well. Clarke is the only defensive back committed for 2023 as of right now.

To say adding Clarke is a big deal might be an understatement. Let’s keep building around this kid.

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