National signing day has come and gone, which means we can begin to fully evaluate the haul each team collected. This week on the Big Ten blog, we're looking at which player or position group has the potential to make an instant impact for each conference team in 2017.
Up next: Illinois
Leading candidate: Wide receiver Ricky Smalling
Lovie Smith built his first signing class in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that figures to pay off over the long haul. But in terms of a quick fix, the Illini addressed a glaring need to improve the passing attack by adding a weapon at wideout as their highest-rated new addition.
The need for help right away in the receiving corps could put pressure on Ricky Smalling to perform. But the four-star target from Chicago looks capable of stepping in to provide a boost right away for an offense that averaged just 175 yards per game through the air last season and needs somebody to emerge opposite Malik Turner. Obviously, plugging in a healthy Mikey Dudek would help the Illini as well as he tries to return from consecutive season-ending knee injuries. But when he's healthy, Dudek works best out of the slot, while the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Smalling has the frame to be a factor on the perimeter and potentially stretch the field.
Illinois also has questions at quarterback as it moves on without Wes Lunt, and that's obviously a major part of the equation for jolting the passing game back to life. But improving the depth and quality of the receivers will provide a boost no matter who is throwing the football for the Illini, and Smalling is going to have an opportunity right away to prove that it should be coming his way.