Bob Asmussen | Danville High star keeping low profile ahead of NFL draft

Apr. 24—CHAMPAIGN — Don't count on a big NFL draft party for Illinois offensive lineman Julian Pearl.

He is an imposing figure on the field, all 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds of him. But the Danville High School graduate and four-year Illini starter is keeping a low profile during the annual NFL talentfest.

The draft, which is being held in Detroit, starts Thursday night with the first round. It could include Illini defensive tackle Johnny Newton, who is expected to go in the mid-to-late stages of opening round.

Newton planned a party for family and friends in Orlando, Fla., about 90 minutes from his Tampa home.

The second and third rounds are scheduled for Friday night. And the fourth to seventh rounds — likely Pearl's territory — are on Saturday.

Is Pearl going to watch the entire draft?

"Not at all," he said. "I don't even know what day the draft is. I've just been working toward the next day."

After his pro day workout last week at the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility, Pearl met with reporters.

He had attended the NFL combine in late winter, but wasn't able to participate in drills because of an injured hamstring.

What was the rest of it like?

"A very strenuous job interview," Pearl said. "They don't leave any box unchecked. They just get a feel for you, you get a feel for them. It was a good experience."

His pro day gave him a chance to be seen in action by NFL scouts. He was joined by Newton, who also had to sit out at Indianapolis following foot surgery.

"I wanted to get some times up," Pearl said. "Let them see me move finally. It's been a long time coming. Happy to do that."

Waiting for his injury to heal wasn't easy for Pearl. He tried to turn it into a positive.

"It made me reflect on life lessons and control what you can," he said. "You've really got to lean on that."

The work is only beginning. After the draft, there will be a rookie minicamp, then summer training camp.

He studied sociology at Illinois. But Pearl jokes football was his major.

"I really put everything into this," he said. "I've got a lot of chips on the table."

What they are saying

Pearl has received feedback as he prepares for the next chapter in his football career.

"They like my athleticism, my measurables," Pearl said. "My arm length, how I get off the ball, how I move in space, really high on that."

He receives strong marks for being available to play. He missed one game because of injury his entire time at Illinois. That's a big deal in the NFL, where the rosters are small.

What position does Pearl expect to play?

"I've been telling people I'm just an O-lineman," he said. "I like not to be boxed in to one position. To improve my stock and to improve my value to the team, I'll play whatever."

That was the attitude he had at Illinois. Early on, he was considered for defense before finding a home on the offensive line.

Pearl made an impact at a school close to home. The team ended more a decade of losing seasons in 2022 with an 8-5 finish.

"Before I got here, we won two games," Pearl said. "It meant the world to me to be a part of teams that finally went to bowl games and had winning seasons after a long time."

He wore No. 54 at Illinois, a number he carried over from high school. That is a legal number for NFL offensive linemen, so Pearl plans to ask for it. The only team with a retired No. 54 is Cincinnati, which was worn by center Bob Johnson.

Pearl picked it because of Bears star Brian Urlacher.

Making history

In the past five NFL drafts, Illinois linemen have been very popular with the pro teams. Four have been drafted, starting with Nick Allegretti in 2019. It worked out great for the seventh-rounder, who went to the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, he has three Super Bowl rings and is getting paid. Allegretti is moving to the Washington Commanders, who signed him to a lucrative deal. Allegretti will be the starting left guard and is well on his way to a decade-plus NFL career. Could not happen to a nicer guy.

More Illini linemen followed Allegretti, with Kendrick Green selected in 2021 (Steelers) and Vederian Lowe (Vikings) and Doug Kramer (Bears) picked in 2022.

Pearl won't be the only Illini lineman chosen in this draft. Teammate Isaiah Adams is ranked as a likely fourth-round choice by , while Pro Football Focus has Adams as a mid fifth-round pick.

If both are selected, that will make it six offensive linemen selected in six years, adding to a pro list that also includes NFL veteran Ted Karras (Bengals) and second-year player Alex Palczewski (Broncos).

No position group includes more former Illini. The closest is defensive back, where there are six former Illini cashing checks.

Illinois line coach Bart Miller is all for the success of the exes.

It helps when he tries to sell the school to the next Allegretti or Pearl.