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Jordan Willis pass rusher Bengals need on Day 2

With a nice power and speed combination, the Kansas State star has climbed the big boards after a great performance at the NFL Combine.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

With a draft class loaded with defensive talent both in the secondary and the front seven, one of the players shooting up the big boards since the NFL Scouting Combine has been Kansas State pass rusher Jordan Willis. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is far from a finished product, but his speed and quickness could make him a starter from day one.

After recording 17.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks in his senior year, Willis also picked up Second Team All-America citations from Sporting News and Pro Football Focus, while he was a third-team honoree from the Associated Press. Some argue his size will make him a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he played with his hands in the dirt in college and has the potential to remain there for a team like the Cincinnati Bengals.

School: Kansas State

Position: Edge rusher

Height: 6’4"

Weight: 255 lbs.

Arm length: 33 1/2"

Hands: 9 7/8"

40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds (1.54-second 10-yard split)

Vertical jump: 39"

Broad jump: 10.5"

3-cone drill: 6.85 seconds

One thing to keep in mind while watching tape of Willis is the short rotation used by Kansas State.

“We were a three-man rotation,” Willis said at the Combine. “That is just how it kind of ended up being sometimes. Some games I would play the entire game and obviously the Big 12, one of my longest drives this year was a 32-play drive and I was out there during that full 32 plays, so obviously I went with what I had at time. I am happy to see what it would be like playing like a 50- or 60-play game. We’ve had a couple of those.”

“Like with my takeoff, sometimes with my takeoff it will be very explosive, it looks good. Obviously when I get tired, taking off seven or eight times in a row, two-minute situation, which is every turn, it looks a little bit slower,” he continued. “Then I have a longer stride, so it looks like Iím not really taking off the ball that much. But like half shorter, shorter game, shorter drive, a little bit more rotation, then that takeoff will be the same or more consistent throughout the game.”

That is something you can notice, for example, in K-State’s seventh game of the season, against Texas.

Willis almost always rushed from the left side in the games that I watched, and the Bengals already have Carlos Dunlap entrenched there, but Cincy could still be a great destination for him as some scouts see him more of a situational pass rusher in the NFL:

Draft analyst Eric Galko of said scouts recently told him that Willis could be creeping into second-round territory.

“He’ll be a guy who is mostly at the line of scrimmage, hand in the dirt,” Galko said. “He’s not overly laterally quick or fluid; his best asset as a player is pinning his ears back, getting upfield, penetrating as an edge rusher and be a third-down speed guy. That’s a real role in the NFL.”

What to like:

Quick first step and athleticism to spare. You cannot teach speed, and the Kansas city native was the fastest end in the Senior Bowl. He managed to succeed as a pass rusher in a quick-pass-heavy environment like the Big 12. Despite his compact build, Willis can also turn the corner and he says he can play even in a wide-9 scheme. He was also a force against the run in 2016, scoring a 89.5 grade there for ProFootballFocus. Willing to put in the work to improve and study the game.

What needs work:

After years of adding big physical bodies to their defensive line, the time for projects is gone for the Bengals. The team must bring in a player able to get to the quarterback right away, if the Bengals want to contend again in 2017. Willis will have to refine his technique and learn how to manipulate tackles in order to succeed in the next level. He’s got a good initial push and has good hands, but is very deliberate as pass rusher. Has a good combination of power and speed, but his lack of flexibility could limit his ceiling.

How does he fit in the Bengals:

If the Bengals draft a pass rusher in the first round, say Solomon Thomas from Stanford or Jonathan Allen from Alabama, then they will probably look elsewhere with their second pick. Willis won’t be available in the third round. If the Bengals don’t get their desired defensive lineman with the ninth pick and get an offensive player, Willis could be the best rusher in Day 2 of the Draft. He can give the Bengals somebody to unleash on passing downs while allowing Will Clarke to kick inside alongside Geno Atkins. Right now the Bengals only have one player with his burst on their roster - Atkins.