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2017 NFL Draft: Analyzing Bengals’ selection of defensive end Jordan Willis

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Former Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis was one of the hardest workers in the draft.

Kansas State v West Virginia Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Bengals picked up the team’s fist defensive player in the 2017 NFL Draft, and we had to wait until the third round to see it happen. With the 73rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bengals selected Jordan Willis, a defensive end out of Kansas State. The former wildcat fills a need that some have argued was the Bengals’ biggest going into the weekend.

Willis has seen his draft stock soar in recent weeks, with some analysts seeing him being drafted potentially as high as the first round. That didn’t happen, so the Bengals figured they couldn’t pass on him until Round 3. Willis seems like a great pick who could bring a lot to the Bengals’ defense.

What Willis Brings to the Bengals:

Sacks: Willis recorded an astounding 25.5 sacks in his four year career at Kansas State. 20 of those sacks came during the course of the past two seasons. He knows how to work the stack-and-shed technique to get around offensive linemen with ease and rarely gets held up. He simply does not give up in the pass rush and can be very tiring to work against as an offensive lineman.

If you don’t believe me, just watch this video highlighting each of his 25.5 sacks from his college career.

Relentless motor: Willis simply does not give up. Did the ball carrier move out of his way? He can change directions on a dime. Is he up against a mobile quarterback? He won’t stop moving until the whistle blows. Is a running back trying to wriggle his way out of a tackle? He won’t allow it. If you’re going to beat him, you’re going to have to do it by getting the ball away from him quickly or making him take a bad angle. You aren’t going to wear him out or out-work him, which is excellent news for a Bengals team that is likely hoping he can develop into an effective starter.

Great tackler: Over the years, the Bengals have had their share of issues with wrapping up and finishing tackles. Willis brings strong hands and a tight grip to the table, rarely allowing ball carries to escape his grasp. If he gets his hands on a running back or quarterback, you can expect him to complete the tackle.

Why the Pick Makes Sense:

Hard Worker: The Bengals love guys who are focused on football and spend all of their energy on being the best player they can be. He is sure to ‘wow’ the Bengals’ coaching staff in training camp due to his legendary work ethic. Any weaknesses he presents are based on various technique deficiencies in his game, but a relentless work ethic could help him work through and improve upon all of those weaknesses, as well as the help of NFL coaches.

Need at defensive end: The Bengals aren’t known for making selections based on need, but it is really nice when they find a player they love at a position they desperately need help at. Right now, the Bengals employ Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson at the starting defensive end spots with Wallace Gilberry and Will Clarke at the backup spots.

Dunlap’s spot at left defensive end is safe. That could be a bit problematic because Willis’ primary experience at defensive end is on the left side. But, the Bengals have been disappointed with the production of right defensive end Michael Johnson ever since he returned from a short stint in Tampa Bay, in 2015. The ever-relentless worker Willis is, the transition from the left to the right side of the line shouldn’t take too long, so he has all the potential and chance in the world to make a name for himself in Cincinnati.

Starting experience: Willis was a three-year starter at Kansas State, so he knows how to earn and keep a starting job, which is great news for a Bengals team looking to find a productive starter next to Carlos Dunlap. You wouldn’t want a player with his unrelenting motor to be stuck in a defensive end rotation that allows him to see less than half of the total defensive snaps. Luckily, he is generally known as an every-down starter who should bring an element of experience to the defensive line, despite being a rookie. Don’t be shocked if he sees starting time in his first season.