Illinois Fighting Illini WR Ryan Lankford was the team's most improved player this spring. And if these trends continue, he could become Illinois' third option. A.J. Jenkins, who had 746 yards and 7 TDs last season, made the Biletnikoff watch list; he's the #1. Darius Millines, who had a big catch in the Texas Bowl will be the #2. And Lankford who also had a huge 52 yard reception also in the big postseason win over Baylor, will be #3.
There isn't much experience there, as Lankford and Millines combined for just 8 catches, 171 yards. So that probably doesn't help Illini fans sleep much at night. However, no one benefited more from the 15 extra practices a bowl game gets you than these two receivers, and no one made bigger strides than Lankford in the spring.
"He plays tough and has never come out of a game for being hurt, so that's something you want in a receiver, especially when they're 170 or so. They got to be tough, they have no other choice because they're going to feel those hits," Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase said of Lankford.
Ryan is skinny and small, but he's also a fleet-footed 3-star recruit out of Jacksonville (like Jenkins). Illinois has been tapping all the speed resources in the most fertile recruiting state to fill their skill position needs.
"If you look at Coach Petrino's receivers that he's had, it's been the guys who made other guys better. At Arkansas, he had a bunch of guys that any of them could come out and be the highlight receiver that day, and that's what we need," Scheelhaase continued.
"With A.J. and Darius being hurt, and a couple other guys being hurt, it was time for everyone to step up and try to make their position in the offense," Lankford said.
"Everyone came and watched extra film, did the things they needed to do to become a better individual player. Just me being here a whole 'nother year has really helped out."
For more on Illinois rushing attack issues go here.
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