Jordan Willis has the tape NFL teams seek in edge rushers. He plays hard, has an assortment of pass-rush moves and defends the run, too.
On that alone, Willis — a 6 foot 4, 255-pound defensive end at Kansas State — would make a strong case to be drafted on the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft.
But after the physical display the Kansas City native and Rockhurst High School graduate put on this weekend at the NFL Combine — where NFL teams greatly value measureables — Willis continues to prove he might indeed be a top-50 pick. He was chosen one of the biggest winners of Day 3 at the combine by the NFL Network’s Charles Davis.
“I thought Jordan Willis of Kansas State opened up a lot of eyes today with speed and quickness,” Davis said on air. “We saw him play very hard with great effort at Kansas State; I think he’s a little more athletic than people thought.”
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First off, Willis has the big hands (9 7/8 inches) and long arms (33 1/2 inches) necessary to control offensive linemen and keep them of his body.
Secondly, his marks in several key categories — like the 40-yard dash (4.53), vertical jump (39 inches), three-cone (6.85) and 20-yard shuttle (4.28) — were among the best at his position, indicators that he has the athleticism required to consistently match up against some of the best athletes in the world.
Willis credits the predraft training he’s done with former K-State star Mark Simoneau and former Chief and Pro Football Hall of Famer Will Shields for helping him to a strong performance this weekend.
“I’ve been working with Will since kind of like high school,” Willis said. “He’s taught me — he doesn’t do a lot of D-line stuff with me — he just teaches me hand work, what to expect from offensive linemen. All the small things like hip work, foot speed and things like that.”
Willis also caught the eye of several evaluators at the Senior Bowl in January, where he consistently won on the edge against some of the better tackles in the country and backed up the form he showed as a senior at K-State, when he used a non-stop motor to rack up 52 tackles (17 1/2 for loss) and 11 1/2 sacks in 2016.
“Actually, our coaches expect that out of us,” Willis said. “I only played at one college, but I just know Kansas State, that’s something coach Snyder, our position coach Blake Seiler … expected from us and that was something I grew into.
“Obviously, when I noticed you don’t always have to be making a play in the backfield or a tackle for a loss or a sack … to help out the rest of your team, (I realized) it just displays more of your talent.”
Willis expects to give the same amount of effort in the NFL, where — if he can claim a starting job — he might be expected to carry a similar workload to the one he had at Kansas State, where he played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a senior.
“Obviously, sometimes you’re not going to be doing your best all the time; you’re going to be tired,” Willis said. “But I think it’s (important to) take care of your body, recover and make sure you’re in tip-top shape.”
Willis said at the combine that he met with Detroit, Washington and Miami for formal interviews. The Chiefs were not a part of that group, but given the athleticism he showed this weekend — and defenses’ increasing reliance upon four-man nickel rushes — it’s possible someone like Willis, a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 end at K-State, could interest teams that use standup edge rushers in a 3-4 scheme as well.
“I may drop once or twice a game, like in college once or twice a game,” Willis said. “Every team that I’ve spoken to here, I may drop a couple of times. But the majority of the time, the purpose of it would be for me to rush the passer.”
And Willis, of course, continues to prove he is very good at that.
“I think I’m going to get more out of my pass rush,” Willis said.