NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
Well, the NFL Combine has come and gone and we saw a lot of impressive performances this year. While there may not be many flashy names at the top of the draft, I can’t remember a year that was so deep at so many positions. The talent pool that teams will be picking from in rounds 2 through 4 and even beyond is going to be ridiculous. There will be starting caliber players still available on Day 3 of this draft for sure. One position that looks to be very deep is that of Defensive End, which is good thing, because this is a position the Patriots will need to address. One name that continues to be linked to the Patriots is Jordan Willis, and he made quite an impression at the NFL Combine over the weekend, so I thought I should see if the tape matches up with his athletic testing.
When I watch Willis play, I see a player who has worked on and developed his hand use. He may have the most active hands of any Edge player I have watched to date. Not only are they active, but he knows what he is doing with them. He is effective pulling, ripping, and extending with leverage and power. He makes it very difficult for Offensive Lineman to get their hands on him, and he has the ability to get them off him quickly when they do. He plays with a non stop motor and is willing to run across or down field to stay with a play. He has a good first step and forces his opponent to open their hips early, giving him the advantage as a pass rusher and an edge setter. He plays under control and with his eyes up when setting the edge. He wins with power, using a good bull rush and rip move to get after the Quarterback. He is a team leader and a hard worker and will be an asset to a locker room.
Despite his amazing results at the Combine, I did not see a player who played to those athletic traits on a consistent basis. I was shocked at his 3-cone and shuttle times because on tape he does not have good change of direction and bend. In the games I watched, I saw a guy who struggled to bend the edge because of his tight hips. Willis needs to develop his pass rush moves because when he did not when with his first move, he looked like he didn’t have a plan for what to do next and became ineffective. I thought Willis also played high a lot which created balance issues.
Boy, this is one of the harder evaluations I have done this year. I thought I had Willis all figured out and then he went and absolutely crushed it at the Combine. I went back and watched two more games of his today to see if those traits showed up on tape and their were flashes. Overall, I still saw a guy who played more linear than his testing would indicate, but maybe he just needs to be coached up on how to use his athletic talents. I would have liked to seen him drip in coverage some, because at his size, if he wants to be anything more than a situational pass rusher, he would have to be able to do so. Obviously there is talk of him being a 1st round guy after his Combine performance, but I just cannot get on board with that. As they say, you must trust the tape, and I see a guy who is closer to a end of 2nd/3rd round guy, but realistically think a team will take him top 50.