Enough quickness to turn the corner against slower tackles
Quality run defender
Plays with good leverage
Gives a second effort
Can struggle with length
Has a hard time shedding blocks from long offensive tackles
Not good at redirecting
Not a good fit in a 3-4 defense
Some sacks come on second effort
Not a speed demon off the edge
Doesn't play up to timed speed
Doesn't have a great get-off or great closing speed
Summary: Every year in the NFL draft, there are some players who really help themselves with better than expected workouts. That has been the case for Willis this year. He had a good college career for Kansas State, but he worked out much better than the expectations of the scouting community. As a result, Willis should be an early round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Willis first made a significant impact as a junior for Kansas State, recording 36 tackles with 15.5 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three passes batted. The senior was even better in 2016 with 11.5 sacks, 52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles. He finished the season in impressive fashion before having a good week at the Senior Bowl. Willis was also one of the stars of the NFL Scouting Combine with a surprisingly fast 40 time of 4.53 seconds and a good workout in the field drills.
As a run defender, Willis is tough at the point of attack. He has some functional strength to hold his gap, but can struggle to get off blocks in order to flow down the line for tackles. Willis doesn't have the speed and explosiveness to chase down a lot of runs from the backside in the NFL.
In the pass rush, Willis has enough quickness to turn the corner when going against right tackles. He also has active hands with some variety in moves to use rips and swims. Willis timed much faster than he played, and he isn't explosive off the ball. Willis has good instincts to go for the strip and reads plays well. He's been well-coached in the fundamentals, but he doesn't play up to his timed numbers. Willis also lacks length, and when he goes against long offensive tackles, he can have a hard time getting off blocks. Improving his ability to disengage from that type of blocker will be a key area of improvement considering the typical length of NFL offensive tackles.
As a pro, Willis could be a supporting defensive end who notches 4-8 sacks per season if he has an elite pass-rusher on the other side who helps him with single teams and funneling the quarterback to him to clean plays up.
Here is how one top scout from a pass-rush-needy team summarized Willis, "Manufactured workout warrior. Solid backup type who can earn starts, but doesn't show same explosiveness on tape to feel he is going to wreck shop versua NFL blockers. Willis is workman-like and blue collar. If he's a starter, he's along the Clark Haggans, Brian Robison, Alex Okafor, Rob Ninkovich type. Willis tested better than Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Derrick Morgan, but he isn't near as explosive an athlete or player on tape as those guys were coming out."
Willis would fit best in the NFL as an end in a 4-3 defense even though he is undersized for that role. Willis is a little short on length and speed to be a stand up 3-4 outside linebacker. Sources say they expect Willis to be second-day pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and five teams have told WalterFootball.com they graded Willis as a late second-round/early third-round pick.
Player Comparison: Brian Robison. Robison (6-3, 259) is almost identical in size to Willis and has carved out a good career and has been a functional contributor for the Vikings. Willis could easily turn into a similar pro.
NFL Matches: Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New York Jets, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Washington and Tampa Bay
There are a lot of potential fits for Willis in the early rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. In the early portion of the second round, there some possible landing spots, including with the 49ers, the Jets and the Bengals. San Francisco needs an edge rusher for its defense, and the Jets could use an edge rusher, too. Cincinnati could also be a fit for Willis. The Bengals need a rusher opposite Carlos Dunlap as Michael Johnson is a limited player.
Carolina would be a good fit for Willis as well. It wouldn't be surprising if he was taken by the Panthers. In the same division, the Saints have to upgrade their defense and improve against the pass. They need an edge rusher across from Cam Jordan for one, so Willis could get consideration with their second-round pick. Staying in the NFC South, Tampa Bay could take another pass-rusher to go across from Noah Spence. The Bucs have shown interest in Willis and hosted him on a pre-draft visit.
Indianapolis needs help all over its defense. Willis would upgrade their edge rush, as John Simon and Jabaal Sheard are more complementary pass-rushers, but Willis isn't a great fit in a 3-4 defense. Similarly, the Ravens need more pass rush after cutting Elvis Dumervil. Willis may not be a fit for Baltimore's 3-4 scheme either.
The Eagles could consider taking Willis as they could use an end to pair with Brandon Graham. Their rival The Redskins want to get younger and more athletic up front, so they could take Willis too.
Among the playoff teams, Willis could have a few landing spots. The Lions could use defensive line help, and Willis could improve their edge rush across from Ziggy Ansah. Miami could use a young edge rusher. The team cut Mario Williams and retained and aging Cameron Wake. The Cowboys need to improve their pass rush, and Willis would make sense for their scheme. Atlanta, for its part, needs an edge rusher to go on the other side from Vic Beasley.