Future On the Line: Scouting Jordan Willis as a Potential Heir Apparent to Cam Wake

Background:

Described as “the epitome of Kansas State football” by Hall of Fame Head Coach Bill Snyder, Jordan Willis has a chance to be the first DE from the school taken in Round 1 of the draft.

Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and received third team All-American honors.  In his two years as full time starter at DE for KSU, Willis racked up 20+ sacks and 30+ TFLs. 

Willis is admittedly not a vocal leader — instead, the talented lineman chooses to let his play do the talking.  Rising into the first round of most NFL draft boards, it’s safe to say his tape and combine numbers are sending the message loud and clear.  

Positives:

Jordan Willis can beat offensive linemen in a number of ways.  He has the power to successfully bull rush blockers, the hand-power combo to stack and shed blockers with ease, the speed to beat linemen outside and the agility to get around blockers.  In the clip below, Willis uses his hands to beat the right tackle’s initial punch and, without missing a beat, swims by his blocker for a sack in the red zone.

Jordan Willis swim.gif

In the second clip, Willis shows off impressive agility. Instead of immediately engaging with the blocker, he uses his athleticism to shake the blocker and then uses a subtle dip to get to the QB for a sack.

Jordan Willis - Agility..gif

Willis would be able to put his arsenal on full display playing next to stars like Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake.  It’s easy to imagine the prospect involved in a play like the one below: With consistent pressure and double teams inside on Suh, Willis would have plenty of one-on-one opportunities and stunt plays.  Willis excels on these stunt plays thanks in part to his combination of agility and straight-line speed.  At the combine, he ran an outstanding 4.53 40-yard dash in addition to a 6.85 three-cone drill; both times were the best in this years class of EDGE players.  He’s able to use this agility to keep a tight line to the QB with little wasted movement, which allows him to get into the backfield quickly.

Willis - Stunt.gif

Willis has a plethora of pass-rush moves that he developed while at KSU, but he continues to show that he is still learning.  He trained this offseason in preparation for the NFL with former Kansas City Chiefs DE Will Shields, working on defensive hand and feet technique and learning nuances of how to defeat different types of offensive linemen.

Jordan Willis swim.gif

Another major positive from Jordan Willis’ game is his high level of on-field awareness. He has a great grasp on situational play calling from the opposition and is an asset when defending short throws and screens.  On the play below, Willis displays his awareness of the 3rd and short passing lanes.  He makes sure he keeps his left hand free from the RT, dips to avoid engagement and puts his hands directly into the passing lane for a huge 3rd down pass deflection.

Jordan Willis batted down.gif

Willis is a high motor, durable player that will give you 110% on every drive.  He played 92% of KSU’s defensive snaps this year and played each one of them at a high level.  In the clip below, his high motor and pursuit are on full display.  Willis gets caught in a poorly timed stunt call, but makes up for it by using his 4.5 speed to sprint 15 yards downfield and make a big hit on the RB.

Jordan Willis in pursuit.gif

Negatives:

While Willis does have a great motor, he is not a freestyle rusher.  This means that when Willis chooses to rush the passer or take on a run blocker, he does it one way: all the way. He doesn’t deviate from his rush with any sort of counter move if the first method fails. This results in Willis being washed down field and out of the play by a pass blocker and moved by stronger offensive lineman in the running game when he loses hand leverage.

Another reason for Willis losing some ground in the run game is his tendency to play a bit high.  He has a ton of confidence in his shed and shake technique, and sometimes he ends up losing leverage by staying high on quick handoffs.

Willis Too high.gif

How He Fits With The Dolphins:

Dolphins GM Chris Grier has stressed the importance of bringing in guys that fit the ‘prototype’ for each position.  Willis is a glove fit for the Dolphins’ 4-3, Wide 9 scheme. He’s tall, long, powerful and athletic, with high productivity and a heralded football IQ. Willis is do-it-all three down DE and a potential heir apparent to Dolphins great Cameron Wake.  In fact, when asked who Willis mirrors his game after, he mentioned Cameron Wake by name, saying that he idolizes Wake’s playing style and explosion off the edge. He has a skill set that fits perfectly with current personnel and could contribute right away in Miami.

Jordan Willis is my ideal selection at #22 overall for the Dolphins.  He has an impressive skill set, refined technique and checks all the right boxes in terms of character.  He is a guy that can come in and play at both LDE and RDE or even inside on passing downs, giving Cameron Wake and Andre Branch some rest while learning the position.  He would be groomed to eventually become Cam Wake’s replacement on the edge and assume a leadership role down the road.

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