Jordan Willis 6’ 4” 255 lbs DE Kansas State
Willis was a 3rd round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals (#73 overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft. His 4.53/40 at the combine was the fastest of any defensive lineman. His 39” vert was second to only Myles Garrett, the overall #1 selection. His pro day workout was excellent as he did both LB and DL work for the scouts with fluidity that was unexpected. He was a 3 year starter at K-State, where he was 3rd all-time in career sacks with 26.
Willis was #2 in the country with 80 total pressures in 2016. He has a high motor, with tremendous energy. He will fight until the echo of the whistle. Has an excellent get off for his size, not very explosive or quick but can gain an advantage quickly and be in the QB’s face in a heartbeat. He just needs to beat his man quickly with an arm over move or quick rip and swim. He is powerful for his size and a good tackler.
He is just an all-around excellent athlete for his size with speed, power, agility. He is a great tackler with strong hands that rarely lose their prey. He can easily can stack and shed a blocker, and his arm over move is a quick winner. He can set a strong edge with enough anchor against the largest offensive tackles when he plays with good leverage. He has good hand work. His mentor in college was Will Shields who is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and a former Outland Trophy winner.
Willis could still use some coaching on counter moves against offensive linemen. He plays high at times and can get washed out of running plays because of poor leverage. He could use more creativity as a pass rusher, relying on swim and strength. Willis isn’t a “twitchy” type player and has to work for all the pressures he creates. He is a single tempo rusher who doesn’t have a second or third gear to close on his prey. He doesn’t possess great bend. He has to overpower or swim a lineman to get pressure.
I thought when I scouted him in college he should be a Sam LB in the NFL playing over a TE. He is strong enough to muscle even the biggest TE’s and is fast enough to run with them. He lacks some dynamic skills like fast hands or feet, great first step, or elite quickness. He doesn’t do well when his initial punch or pass rush move fails.
He is a quiet kid who was given a scholarship to K-State before he ever played varsity football (because of football camps). Even when other schools came calling he still kept his word to attend Kansas State. He was so quiet that he was not elected as a captain on his high school football team. His classmates though knew he was smart with special talents and elected him the president of his senior class.
Here are some quick clips to show you what I saw when I scouted him back in 2015 and 2016.
Here he is against a strong Arkansas offensive line. The tackle is Dan Skipper who is on the Patriots roster right now. Skipper is 6’ 10 and 320 lbs.
You can see Willis does a nice job coming off the the line at the snap. He is stacking Skipper in case of a run. Once he sees the play fake he quickly sheds and pulls him slightly forward as he uses an arm over move then a nice swim by the big tackle. He then uses an effective wrap tackle. He doesn’t violently throw himself at the QB. Willis doesn’t have exceptionally long arms (33 1/2”) so he grabs and wraps to get the sack.
This next move against West Virginia is against a 6’ 6” 300 lbs tackle. This is a another move he has in his bag of tricks to get pressure on the QB. It is a component of the half man technique players use. The technique is to attack one half the offensive tackle. Half a man is not as strong as whole man. That’s the logic at least.
Remember that Willis is outweighed here by about 25 lbs and is just a smaller man compared to the tackle. Willis bull rushes to the right shoulder of the big tackle like he wants to power around the edge. Once Willis feels the tackle overcompensate to keep him from doing that, he spins back (just as he is at equal depth with the QB), and he is right there to make the sack. This is a fairly complex move for a college junior.
In this next GIF it appears that Willis is a speed rusher as he gets the edge on a 6’5” 280 lbs tackle. In reality it is a poor job by the OT as he has a slow slide step plus doesn’t get in a punch to slow down Willis. That is a recipe for disaster for an offensive tackle.
Willis doesn’t have great bend or flexible ankles to cut on a dime. A player like a Von Miller would have cut that edge really strong at a 90 degree angle and engulfed the QB. As it is Willis was alert enough to get his hand out and knock the ball away. A strip sack is always a good play. It can be a game changer.
In the same game Willis is makes a quick and decisive tackle on Christian McCaffrey which is a game changer. The fact that he is not blocked has little to do with it.
The fact of the matter is Willis pressured the play so quickly he forced the QB/RB to make a play, and they ended up mishandling the ball because of it. Sometimes swift and decisive action by a lineman, especially when going against a RPO or read option can cause mistakes like this because the defender is making the offensive players make the play on his timetable; not theirs.
Her is it from another angle.
You can see that Willis is playing this read option almost flawlessly as he give the offensive players very little room for success. No matter what they do the play is a loser. This causes indecision on their part. It is not possible to know who made the mistake from an offensive perspective but there is no doubt who cause the mistake because of the pressure.
Lastly this is a sack Willis created off a stunt against Denver. Willis played in 360 defensive snaps as a rookie (31.4% of the defensive snaps) and played 537 defensive snaps in 2018 (47.5%). He was basically a situational pass rusher but only had two sacks total in his 897 combined snaps.
Willis didn’t play at all in the Bengals first game this year, but obviously he didn’t fit into the teams future plans. He was a 3rd round pick but he was not disruptive although he was said to be a model teammate. The person who drafted Willis (Marvin Lewis) is no longer there so the current coaches have no ties to Wilis at all.
Just because the Bengals gave up on Willis is not the kiss of death. Joe Douglas probably scouted Willis himself so he must have liked something he saw. Maybe he (like me) thinks Willis may be better suited at a position other than on the edge. He isn’t really big enough to be a 5 tech and he really doesn’t have the skill set to be a great 4-3 end.
We will have to see what the Jet coaches do with Willis. If he plays right away or sits for a while so he can learn and adjust to a new system. We shall see, but this is a no risk move on a player with some ability.
What do you think?