2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Kansas St OLB Jordan Willis

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

Jordan Willis/OLB Kansas State – 6’3/6 255

The Good

– Ideal size and length with big hands (33 1/2 and 9 7/8 respectively)
– Excellent hand placement, strong punch, and converts speed to power
– Able to string together multiple pass rush moves better than most
– Reads OTs well and counters off their set, has a pass rush plan and able to adjust in the moment
– Uses length really well and creates space as a pass rusher and against the run
– Tons of ways he wins (speed/bull, long-arm, rip, swim)
– Timed absurdly well at the Combine, checked every box
– Good IQ, vision to the football, and gets hands up in throwing lanes
– Great production in college career, been a success at every level/event
– Tons of starting experience

The Bad

– Frustratingly inconsistent bend around the edge, bends off contact but struggles to show the same in space, tape doesn’t always match up with his numbers
– Average athlete and isn’t as fast as he tests
– Asked to one-gap a lot at college level, hard to gauge run defense at next level off ball
– Will have to stand up as a linebacker in the NFL, didn’t play with his hand up in college and very limited time dropping into coverage
– Runs to the ball if it’s on the same side of him but doesn’t show same level of effort when the ball is away

Bio

– 39 career starts
– Career: 40.5 TFL, 26.5 sacks, 6 FFs
– 2016: 17.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 3 FFs
– Big Ten DPOY in 2016, Third-Team All-American
– Two sacks and FF during Senior Bowl
– Ran a 4.53/1.54, 39 inch vert, 10’5” broad, 6.85 three cone at Combine
– Criminology major, hopes to attend law school one day

Tape Breakdown

Want to find maybe the most controversial and divisive player in this draft? You’re looking at him. It’s hard to ignore all the success Jordan Willis has had in his career and the stacks of legitimately great tape in the league. But it’s just as easy to see the deficiencies in his game and the – and this is the most important part of the evaluation – difficult projection he may have trying to make the jump to the NFL.

But the good, as we always start with. Willis might have the best hand use and variety of ways to win as any edge rusher in this class. He has length, gets extension, and always punches into the chest of the tackle with heavy hands, taking control and allowing him to shed off it.

Watch the contact here. This is how Willis will win most often in the league. By the time there’s contact, the battle has been decided.

It’s not all speed to power though. He does a fantastic job of being able to shed after making contact, showing the ability to go from a bull to rip move or a swim/rip. When he makes contact, he does a really nice job being able to bend the edge and get upfield. Here’s just one example.

His hand usage is really advanced and nuance and a lot of fun to watch. Winning with technique and precision, not just speed running around like crazy and hoping to feast off slow-footed right tackles.

A top three cone time makes it feel like he should have some of the best bend in this class. But it doesn’t always come through. Too often, he gets run up past the junction point, the point where the DE needs to turn to the QB without drifting beyond the top of the launch spot.

Like here…

And here….

And here…

That’s the number one and maybe the only major issue Willis has. But it’s a big one, a deal-breaker if you’re not convinced, and will surely elicit Jarvis Jones comparisons in the comments below. But to also be fair, Willis absolutely blew Jones out of the water in every measure, including ten split and three cone, two important measures. 4.53/6.85 for Willis, 4.88/7.46 for Jones. Big disparity.

Still, it’s the one of two pass rushers this year I’ll give a personal pass on with the Jones’ comparison. He and Joe Mathis are the two times I’ve referenced it. Willis could turn about to be a Jarvis-type guy and I have the same feeling about Willis as I did Jones.

Eh, I think I like him?

But Willis is more impressive. Jones had a strong punch but his hand use was a lot worse and less nuanced. He’s apparently got a great football IQ and a high character player who like I said, has just killed it at every event he’s been at. At school, at the Senior Bowl, at the Combine. It’s hard to deny that.

Projection: Early Day Two (Early-Mid 2nd Round)

Games Watched: vs Arkansas, at Stanford, vs Texas, vs Texas Tech, Senior Bowl

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Derek RiversRyan AndersonJoshua DobbsJordan LeggettSamaje Perine
Corn ElderBucky HodgesJames ConnerCooper KuppStanley Williams
Fred RossJamaal WilliamsGeorge KittleEjuan PriceChris Wormley
Jeremy McNicholsJoe MathisDerek BarnettAmba Etta-TawoGareon Conley
Taco Charlton Elijah McGuireRyan SwitzerTanoh KpassagnonTre’Davious White
Brian HillMatthew DayesDonnel PumphreyJosh ReynoldsNazair Jones
De’Veon SmithDavis WebbObi MelifonwuTJ WattJohn Ross
Jerod EvansVince BiegelJosh CarrawayJosh MaloneKevin King
Fadol BrownChris GodwinNate Gerry

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • falconsaftey43

    He’s a guy I like in the 2nd if they choose to pass on an edge rusher in the 1st. I didn’t like him much at first, but combine forced me to go watch more tape, and I warmed up to him. He is no where near as fast on the field as he was at the combine, but I do like his technique and you do see flashes of good bend (something Jones never showed at Georgia). I think he’ll be a good not great pass rusher, but one that can win in a lot of different ways.

  • CP72

    I’m a big fan of drafting great athletes at certain positions (edge, db, wide receiver) and figure the rest out later.

    Heavy hands, high IQ, high motor, superior athlete…I would take my chance I can teach him technique.

  • WreckIess

    He’s definitely the guy who made everyone go back and re watch the tape, but the games still didn’t live up to the numbers. When it comes to something like that, I’m always going to go with what happened in game over what happened in shorts. I’d take him later on in the draft, but in the first? Absolutely not.

  • Michael James

    After his amazing combine I went back and watched his tape. It’s just that he looks like an average athlete at best on tape. You can’t see those combine number at all. That’s really weird, but if you’re unsure, always trust the tape.

  • CP72

    So did Dupree. You don’t know how he was coached or schemed. If I’m a coach just give me a good athletic base to work with, and I will take my chances.

  • Michael James

    I don’t agree. It was obvious that Dupree had no idea what he was doing on tape, but his athleticism showed. Especially that first step was clearly there.

  • CP72

    I know people say his tape is lacking, but Willis did have 40.5 TFLs and 26.5 sacks!?!

    You can see athletic ability with Willis too.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Those numbers can be deceiving (the TFL and Sack ones). I’m not saying they are, you’d have to go back and watch tape on each and every one. But there are plenty of variables that can be present as to why a guy got his numbers up to a certain level.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Yep. Too often we take the all important coaching aspect out of the future prognostications. But I do want to see Dupree appropriately explode before I assume that Porter is the right guy to be getting the all out of these OLB’s. Athletically, Bud is a beast. But numerically, he hasn’t shown us it yet. Here’s to hoping a fully healthy year, with Porter helping to guide, will bring all of that potential to fruition.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think that’s fair. My prayer would be that he falls to us in the 3rd. But those combine numbers will likely push him up into the 2nd, or at the least, before we can pick our first in the 3rd.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Would you take him in the 2nd, which I think is the most likely spot that he goes? Or does that depend solely on what we did at 1.30?

  • WreckIess

    It would have to depend on how that 1st pick went, but If we went elsewhere at 30 I’d be with the pick in the 2nd. The numbers don’t show up on tape, but damn they have to mean something, right? I’d be OK with using a 2nd rounder to find that out.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Willis is intriguing and polarizing for sure. I agree with many others that he’s not on my radar for our 30th pick. As I think there is the possibility of him being someone available at some point in the 2nd, or worst case scenario for him, the 3rd. But those Combine numbers are explosive. I know Shane Mitchell on here is a big Willis fan. I like most of what I see from him as well. I also always take into consideration just what a guy will look like once he has all of the benefits of being here in Pittsburgh (And NO, I’m not talking about the pain pills).

    I also had this kid firmly in the “winners” post that I wrote after the Combine. And how could you not. He lit the place up. Because of what I’ve seen, the ONLY reason I wouldn’t take him at 30 is greed. The greedy thought that maybe we could somehow score him later. It may take moving up in the 2nd rd to be able to actually do that though. But it would be AWESOME if he was available come pick 62.

    I think his deficiencies can be ironed out. And he has good college production. All in all, I like Willis. And he has a built in moniker of Jordan “Whatch you talking ’bout,” Willis! (That reference may have just dated me a little, lol)

    The ultimate question with this guy is this….. Is he better suited to stay on the Edge and play in a 4-3? Or can he make that transition to a 3-4 OLB in our scheme? Much like so many DE’s in college, this is what it comes down to for us, ultimately. Again I’ll say, if we score someone in this draft whose primary focus is as an Edge Rusher for us, I will desperately be hoping for a double-dip at the OLB position, for a guy more like Tyus Bowser, so that we already will have the perfect complimentary OLBacker who is insanely proficient in his ability to drop. That way while we’re are teaching one guy to stand up and drop, we can simultaneously be using the other guy to learn from say Willis, how to go get after the QB and sick ’em. Best of both worlds and we can hopefully score a stud from at least 1 out of the 2 of them.

  • VinHuddle

    A cpl of wks before the combine I saw him protected 3-4th and thought he’d a good 2nd rusher to draft. After watching him perform in the combine I thought Nope and like you said, “likely push him up into the 2nd.” But we can still hold onto hope.

  • Brian Tollini

    I knew his flaws going into watching his tape and I tried NOT to like him, but I couldn’t.

  • Denny

    I wish we hadn’t lost Travis Feeney.

  • NinjaMountie

    I don’t know much about this guy. However, I do know Jarvis and as much as I hated him I have to say he was really close to getting to the QB more than a little bit. I always thought that if he were just a little bit faster, stronger, quicker then he would have easily had 6-8 sacks in a year.
    This guy is obviously faster, stronger, quicker with more and better technique. Soooooooo….mayyybeeee…..he gets there. LOL

  • Watching his games and based on his displayed talent, I don’t see the logic of drafting him before round four or five, and if he won’t last that long, I’d pass him by. Otherwise, he’s a HUGE risk for a critical position that we missed badly on re our first [JJ] attempt to replace James Harrison.

  • Darth Blount 47

    That’s an uber harsh analysis not shared by the pundits, me, or can be based upon his work at either the Senior Bowl (where he earned MOP) OR his really strong Combine workout.

    But yes, if you feel that way based solely on the tape, I understand. But there is NO WAY he lasts past the 3rd round. Not happening.

  • Applebite

    He’s a Bill Synder product, I have to respect him because….Bill Synder. It’s hard not to like him. K-State is not a flashy school, they just put their noses down and grind it out. And that’s pretty much what you’ll get from any guy coming out of Synder’s program.

  • Yes, I hope you’re right, i.e., that he’s gone before he’s on the Steeler’s ‘value-for-pick’ radar. I felt the same way before we blew a first round pick on Jarvis, and my reasoning was the same: the game tape didn’t support the hype. In Jarvis’s case, the situation was reversed. He had lots of SEC sacks, but his combine times were awful. The problem was 3/4ths of his sacks or more were coverage sacks or due to other Georgia defenders flushing the QB into his path. In Willis’s case, yes, he might be coached up to where his consistent play matches his combine scores, but how long will it take and how certain can we be that he’ll get there? Jarvis’s play never matched his hype or 1st round selection despite being considered a “can’t miss” talent. If memory serves, if it wasn’t for his neck issue and dismal combine scores, his pre-draft consensus rating was a top-ten pick. This is why I hope the Steelers draft an OLB whose tape shows sack productivity and consistent in-game domination.

  • “WC”

    Finney is a K-State guy. Snyder is a great coach and his record proves that. Much like Iowa guys, K-State guys just grind. Nothing to do but grind.

    Not flashy, not on the higher end per se, don’t get all the accolades of other schools but they do work hard and are dedicated team players.

  • Wil Masisak

    Well, you’re making progress, Alex!– you had last year’s Steelers 1st Round pick as a “late 2nd rounder”. This year’s Steelers 1st Round pick you have as “Early-Mid 2nd”. Jordan Willis is as good as in Black and Gold, and will be widely regarded as a 1st rounder by the time the draft rolls around. There’s more danger of him getting selected before 1.30 than the Steelers not drafting him. Seriously, though he fits the age, production, conference, athletic ability, room to grow, position of need, edge movement skills, and– most of all for the Steelers and an edge guy– ridiculously quick first step.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Sounds like a reasonable assessment. He’s probably a somewhere in the mid second guy I think, so would be a decent value. I’d call him a high floor, reasonable ceiling guy. Since he’s apparently smart and of good character I could see him improving over time. At least there’s no spinal stenosis.

  • Wil Masisak

    I just don’t comprehend what tape you watched. He is a solid player against run and pass– he plays in a very disciplined defensive structure… guys in that kind of system aren’t just going balls to the wall towards the QB on every snap. When it was 3rd and long and he got a free two way go, he blew past OTs. His production is excellent and he literally watches film 4-5 hours per day. He is a football junkie. Furthermore, he’s only 21– he has a lot of physical and football maturity yet to come.

  • steelasfreek1981

    I loved his 3 cone time and then read the Jarvis comparison. Maybe needs coached up to be an edge setting power rusher that doesnt drop much like Harrison was used last year.
    If we go with Obi or Peppers in the first, what does your “Day 2” edge rusher big board look like after breaking down so many possible guys??

  • steelasfreek1981

    When you think how we would use Reddick, one can’t help but to think what could of been with Feeny…😔

  • The Tower

    As a Dallas fan, I would be shocked if he isn’t in the conversation at 28. His tape screams second or third round because of his inconsistent ability to bend and get to the QB, amongst some of the other things listed here.. but you do see it on occasion. It’s only going to take one or two plays a game where you see Willis bend and then flatten to the QB to make scouts think that a coach can work his technique issues out and develop him into one of the best pass-rushers in the league. He has those elite athletic traits and flashes it on tape (inconsistently).

    His numbers at the combine were as good or better than DeMarcus Ware in every category. Watching his drills, you see a player that has power, has bend, has agility, some of the things that don’t show up on tape. I’m wondering if some of the issues have more to do with the technique he was asked to play from the SDE position. On some of his snaps it appears as if he is hesitating in order to read the OT/RB to make a play in the run-game or contain a mobile QB. He seems like he is still overthinking things as a pass-rusher. Seems like he is overthinking everything instead of trusting his technique. One has to decipher whether or not this is why his pass-rushing technique looks so poor but that’s a challenging thing to do.

    Elite athleticism with second or third round tape. I could see him going in the first round. Dallas took FS Byron Jones at 27 in 2015 and he was that same mold. Alright tape with some poor technique / sloppiness, but freakish measurables. I have a feeling someone will bite on Willis between 25 and 32.