Why the Slide?: Jordan Willis

By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Three years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. A year later, we started the Why Slide? series, and this year, it is back. Feel free to email me requests for “Why the Slide?” and “Why Undrafted?” at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely respond.

Every year during the leadup to the NFL Draft, there are some workout warriors who get their draft stock overhyped after being stars at the combine. In 2017, Willis was one of those players who received a big jump in his projection after a strong Senior Bowl and an excellent combine workout. Willis also had a good senior year with production, so it is somewhat understandable that some analysts started to think that Willis could be a first-round pick. However in the 2017 NFL Draft, Willis slid to the third round before coming off the board.

Sources say the reason why Willis slid was because he was never graded out as a first-round pick to begin with. Based off his tape, he was receiving second day grades or lower, per sources from five different teams. The highest grade heard on Willis was a second-round grade. Two teams said they had Willis as “2/3” – a late second- or early third-round pick. Another AFC team said they had Willis as a third-rounder, while one general manager of a NFC playoff team that is a very tough grader said they had Willis as a fourth-/fifth-round pick (4/5). Thus, Willis was overhyped by the media in their first-round projections, which didn’t genuinely reflect the thinking of NFL teams.

The Cincinnati Bengals ended Willis’ fall when they took him early in the third round. That was a great landing spot for him as the Bengals badly need an edge rusher to emerge across from Carlos Dunlap. Michael Johnson is a limited run-stuffer. Will Clarke hasn’t become an every-down player and is the pass-rusher who replaces Johnson, but Clarke had only four sacks in 2016, so another option is needed. Cincinnati went with its offense in the first and second round, so Willis should get the opportunity to compete immediately for significant playing time. Willis also will benefit from one-on-ones as teams will focus their double teams on Dunlap and/or Geno Atkins. Willis also has some scheme continuity from staying in a 4-3 defense. Thus, the Bengals were a great landing spot for Willis, and if he doesn’t pan out there, he probably won’t anywhere else in the NFL.

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