Friday Night Drive

Here are a dozen Illinois natives who could be selected in the 2023 NFL draft

Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness, who played high school football at Barrington, reacts after making a tackle against South Dakota State, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa.

The NFL draft is about three months away. The annual NFL combine, where many of the top prospects will show off their talents in front of NFL scout, is coming up next month.

Some 260 or so players will hear their names called in late April’s draft. There are at least a dozen or so prospects who grew up in Illinois hoping to hear their names called. Here’s a list of 12 college football players from Illinois who could be drafted this spring. Even if they aren’t selected in the draft, these players will likely have a chance to try out with teams during rookie minicamps this spring.

Jahleel Billingsley, TE, Phillips, Texas

A Chicago native, Billingsley helped Phillips win a Class 5A state championship in 2017. Billingsley declared for the draft after one season with the Longhorns, during which he served a six-game NCAA suspension. Prior to his one season at Texas, Billingsley played for Alabama, catching two passes in a national championship win over Ohio State two years ago.

Luke Ford, TE, Carterville, Illinois

Ford originally played at Georgia as a freshman before transferring closer to home. He appeared in 32 games over the past three seasons at Illinois. He caught 27 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns over the course of three seasons in Champaign.

Antonio Johnson, S, East St. Louis, Texas A&M

Johnson, a junior, declared early for the draft. He was a second-team AP All-SEC selection in 2022. He finished his 2022 season with 71 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, three QB hits and one pass break up. Per ESPN, he ranks as the No. 2 safety in this year’s draft and could potentially be a first-round pick.

Charlie Jones, WR, Deerfield, Purdue

After transferring from Iowa to Purdue for his final year of eligibility, Jones had a breakout season in 2022. He caught 110 passes for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns. He helped Purdue win the Big Ten West. He began his college career at Buffalo before transferring to Iowa.

Sam LaPorta, TE, Highland, Iowa

LaPorta could join a long list of Iowa tight ends to make it in the NFL. He caught 58 passes for 657 yards and one touchdown for the Hawkeyes in 2022. It was his second consecutive year with at least 50 catches for 600 yards. LaPorta grew up in Highland near St. Louis.

Cameron Mitchell, CB, Bolingbrook, Northwestern

Mitchell was a four-year starter at Bolingbrook. At Northwestern, he blossomed into a starter in 2021 and 2022. He totaled 52 tackles last season with one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, one interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Aidan O’Connell, QB, Stevenson, Purdue

O’Connell started each of the last two seasons for the Boilermakers and led them to a bowl game both years. In 2022, he threw for 3,490 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and led Purdue to a Big Ten West division title. O’Connell originally walked on at Purdue in 2017 after playing high school football at Stevenson.

Alex Palczewski, OL, Prospect, Illinois

Palczewski set a Big Ten record and tied the FBS record with 65 career starts at Illinois. The Mount Prospect native primarily played tackle during his career, including nearly every snap at right tackle in 2022. He was a third-team AP All-American last season.

Jayden Reed, WR, Naperville Central/Metea Valley, Michigan State

Reed began his college career at Western Michigan before transferring to Michigan State. As a fifth-year senior in 2022, Reed caught 55 passes for 636 yards and five touchdowns. A year earlier, he was a 1,000-yard receiver with 10 touchdowns as a junior.

Peter Skoronski, OT, Maine South, Northwestern

According to many draft analysts, Skoronski appears likely to be one of the first offensive tackles drafted in 2023. After only three seasons at Northwestern, the Maine South grad is likely to be a first-round pick, and could potentially be a top 10 pick.

Xazavian Valladay, RB, Brother Rice, Arizona State

Vallady, who is from Chicago, played four seasons at Wyoming before transferring to Arizona State for his final year of eligibility. He rushed for 1,192 yards and 16 touchdowns as the featured back for the Sun Devils last season. He also caught 37 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

Lukas Van Ness, DE, Barrington, Iowa

Van Ness has risen up draft boards following a 2022 season in which he totaled 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He has played only two seasons of college ball after redshirting his freshman year in 2020. He played defensive tackle in 2021 before switching to defensive end last season. NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah had Van Ness in the top 10 of his most recent mock draft.