Six Former Illinois Athletes Have Their Dreams Come True During the NFL Draft

Following the NFL Draft, Illinois has proved it is more than a “basketball state.”


Paul Flicek, Staff Writer

After seven rounds, 256 draft picks and loads of trades between every team in the league, the NFL Draft officially came to an end on Saturday, April 30. College football players had their lives change forever as their names were called to officially start their professional football careers. Of the 256 draft picks, six players came from Illinois. 

Illinois has been predominantly known for producing high-level basketball players with the likes of Dwayne Wade, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose. Because of the state’s success in basketball, many high school football players have become overlooked and underappreciated. Following the success of former Illinois high school football players in this year’s NFL Draft, it is becoming clear that the state is no longer just a “basketball state.” 

Alec Pierce played wide receiver for Glenbard West where he broke records and shattered expectations. Pierce went on to play football at the University of Cincinnati from 2018 to 2021. He totaled just over 1800 yards and 106 receptions in his college career while helping lead the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff. Pierce was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the 53rd overall pick. He joins a young offense that will be catching balls from NFL veteran, Matt Ryan. In an interview with FanNation, Pierce stated, “I loved watching Julio Jones as a kid so that was really awesome to watch Matt Ryan with him, and hopefully I can be like a new Julio for him.”

John Ridgeway played defensive tackle for Bloomington High school. After winning a state title in wrestling and multiple all-state honors in football, Ridgeway accepted a scholarship opportunity to play football at Illinois State University. After three impressive seasons at ISU, he transferred to the University of Arkansas for the 2021 season. There, he recorded 39 tackles and two sacks and he later declared for the draft following the end of the season. Ridgeway was selected as the 178th overall pick in the draft by the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys hope his presence will elevate their defense to new heights in 2022. 

Doug Kramer played center for Hinsdale Central before going on to the University of Illinois. Kramer was selected as the 207th overall pick by his hometown team, the Chicago Bears. Kramer was a five-year starter for the fighting Illini and earned All-Big Ten Honors in each of his last three seasons. The selection of Kramer left Bears fans happy as they have already gotten tired of seeing their young quarterback, Justin Fields, run for his life every other play. 

Before Perrion Winfrey was a standout defensive tackle for the University of Oklahoma, he shined on the field at Lake Park High School. The Cleveland Browns selected Winfrey out of the University of Oklahoma with the 108th overall pick. After a dominant career with the Sooners, Winfrey is now teamed up with one of the best defensive players in the NFL, Myles Garret. Winfrey will be a good addition to the already phenomenal Browns defense. 

Eric Johnson played his high school ball at Plainfield South High school. Johnson went on to play defensive tackle for Missouri State and was later selected as the 159th overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts. Johnson starred for Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, an FCS school. Despite coming from a smaller school, Johnson shined at the Senior Bowl, which moved him up many draft boards. 

Vederian Lowe played offensive tackle for Auburn High School in Rockford, IL. After high school, he went on to play for the University of Illinois. The Former Fighting Illini offensive lineman became the first Rockford Public School District 205 player selected in the NFL Draft since 2001. Lowe was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 184th overall pick. At 6’5 and 314 pounds, Lowe will add much-needed depth to the subpar Vikings’ offensive line. 

With these six players representing many communities in Illinois, the pressure is on to play the best of the best and represent the Chicagoland area.