Top Colleges At Producing Detroit Lions: Illinois

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Analyzing The Detroit Lions’ Acquisitions From The University Of Illinois.

This is the tenth article in a 12-part series that will examine which colleges have been the best at producing Detroit Lions in the 21st century. Today will be a look at Lions players from the University of Illinois.

Mikel Leshoure

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Mikel Leshoure spent three years at Illinois. In his freshman year, he was a backup and ran for only 126 yards and one touchdown at just 3.6 yards per carry. In his sophomore year, he still wasn’t a lead back, but had a much more respectable season with 734 rushing yards and five touchdowns at 6.8 yards per attempt. He also caught 14 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Leshoure truly broke out in his junior year when he was unquestionably Illinois’ number on back: he rushed for 1697 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging six yards per carry. He added another 196 yards and three touchdowns receiving through the air. Leshoure finished his collegiate career with a big game in the Texas bowl to lead Illinois over Baylor – Leshoure touched the ball 31 times in the game and made the most out of it, going for 205 yard and three touchdowns.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions traded up into the second round with the Seattle Seahawks to draft Mikel Leshoure. Leshoure was supposed to be the Lions’ big bruising back to complement Jahvid Best, but that plan went awry rather quickly as Leshoure suffered a season ending injury before the 2011 season even started.

In the following offseason, Leshoure was arrested for possession of marijuana and suspended for the first two games of the 2012 season. Mikel Leshoure made his much awaited debut against the Tennessee Titans in week three of the 2012 season. In that game, Leshoure carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and had one touchdown. This would be the only 100 yard game of his entire career, and he went on to finish the season with 798 rushing yards and nine touchdowns at just 3.71 yards per carry.

Leshoure appeared in three games for the Lions in 2013, rushing the ball just two times for nine yards. He has never been on an NFL roster since then.

Akeem Spence

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Akeem Spence also spent three seasons at Illinois. He did not have much of an impact in the passing game, as he had just 3.5 sacks in his three seasons, but he was a force against the run. Spence had 69 tackles in his sophomore year and 72 in his junior year, with 12.5 tackles for loss over the two seasons. Spence was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Spence spent four years in Tampa Bay, where he never turned into anything more than a rotational defensive lineman. His best season came in 2014 when he made 39 tackles and three sacks. Other than that, none of his seasons are notable at all.

Earlier this offseason, Spence signed a three year $9,000,000 contract with the Lions. Spence is expected to compete with Haloti Nagata for a starting defensive tackle position this season.

Tavon Wilson

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Tavon Wilson spent four seasons at Illinois, and had a very good collegiate career. He spent his freshman season as a reserve and recorded just 11 tackles. As a sophomore, he earned a starting spot and made the most of it – he made 74 tackles (3.5 of which were for a loss of yards) and an interception.

Tavon Wilson had somewhat of a down year in his junior year when he only made 48 tackles and one interception, but he had a big rebound as a senior and had his best season with 81 tackles (6.5 of which were for a loss of yards), one sack, an interception, and a fumble that he recovered and returned for a touchdown. Wilson’s strong senior campaign led to the New England Patriots draft him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Wilson had a very strong rookie year with the Patriots. He appeared in all 16 games and started four of them. He made 36 tackles and recorded four interceptions while also defending six passes. The rest of Wilson’s career as a Patriot was very rocky, as he never made another start for the team. He became a liability in pass coverage, and lost his effectiveness in the run game, so the Patriots let him leave in free agency after the 2015 season.

Tavon Wilson then signed a two year $3,200,000 contract with the Lions. Wilson went on to have the best season of his career in Detroit. Wilson started 14 games and made 87 tackles, one sack, two passes defended, and two interceptions. His interceptions were both big plays in the fourth quarter to help secure wins against the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wilson also received a grade of 83.5 by Pro Football Focus, which means above average. They had him ranked as the 19th best safety in the NFL last season.

Wilson is the favorite to by the Lions’ starting strong safety again in the 2017 season. He is playing for a new contract, and if he plays well he could be rewarded with one.


All of the players in this article have been productive in the NFL at times, but none of them have had consistent good careers. Leshoure’s NFL Career is over, but Wilson and Spence still have a chance to prove that they are good players. I think Illinois has produced perfectly average players for the Detroit Lions, so they will receive an average grade.

Grade: C

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