There are few players in college football as versatile as Illinois defensive back Terry Hawthorne. He’s been doing it all since high school and the talent-lacking Illini asked him to keep it up.
Hawthorne was a corner, wide receiver, punter, and punt returner at East St. Louis High School. He put up gaudy numbers everywhere he played and was considered a four star prospect by many. Most schools looked at him as a defensive back, but Rivals had him listed as the sixth best wide receiver in the country. He earned a starting job his freshman year at Illinois, starting five games and getting 30 tackles.
He has battled injuries on and off during his career at Illinois, including missing time this year due to a concussion. However, his impact on the field has been huge for the Illini. His ball skills are what you would expect for a natural corner who has also been successful as a receiver. Illinois was going to ask him to be an impact player on offense as well this year, but his special teams and defensive contributions have been too important.
He is extremely athletic with good long speed and quickness. His back pedal is rough and needs work, but he is a smooth athlete in general. He has good size at 6’0″ and 190 pounds, but doesn’t appear to have the longest frame. This isn’t a big issue, as he will best be utilized in off-man or zone coverage- he isn’t a press guy.
I would be very interested in seeing him get work as a free safety. His back pedal issues wouldn’t be as prominent, and he would probably get a better chance to showcase his excellent ball skills. He is a very willing tackler and appears to have great all-around football intelligence.
He has been a solid, if unspectacular kick returner as well, but he is a very good gunner on special teams.
No one expected his teammate Tavon Wilson to be selected as high as he was last season by the Patriots (second round), and I think Hawthorne is a similarly under-the-radar type of guy who should be a day-two selection.