Widely praised as one of the top steals of the 2017 NFL Draft, Jordan Willis joins the Bengals after a standout career at Kansas State. We spoke with Jon Morse, managing editor of Bring on the Cats, SB Nation’s Kansas State blog, to learn more about the dynamic pass rusher who fell to the Bengals in Round 3.
Why did he fall, what are his greatest strengths and what should Bengals fans expect from Willis? Morse answered those questions and more in providing some great context for how expectations should be set for Willis’ rookie year. He also sprinkled in some fun facts, including Willis’ past as the high school student council president.
Cincy Jungle: Were you expecting Jordan Willis to fall so far in the draft? Some expected him to be a Round 1 pick. Any ideas as to how/why he fell?
Jon Morse: That Willis didn't go in the first round wasn't a *surprise*, but we thought it was likely enough that it was certainly a disappointment. That he then sat there throughout the second round? That was stunning, and resulted in a lot of unhinged Twitter ranting.
The only explanation for his fall is that NFL scouts are weird, and can never make up their minds on whether measurables or tape are more important. Willis does have some stiffness on tape, but that stiffness quite obviously isn't a result of his athletic ability. In this case, we all wonder: you can teach technique, but you can't teach measurables, right?
CJ: What were his biggest strengths in college?
JM: Good hands and finishing ability, good field vision, really good at helping an offensive lineman beat himself (read: he swims very well).
CJ: How about weaknesses?
JM: His ability to change direction was suspect, but then he ran those insane numbers in the shuttle and cone drills at the combine, confusing the issue. The other big weakness is that Willis rarely lost the first move in a battle with an offensive lineman, but when he did, he was done. He'll need that worked out of him.
CJ: Do you think he fits in well with a 4-3 defense?
JM: K-State almost exclusively plays with four down; their main shift is to go 4-2-5. So yeah, he's definitely a 4-3 guy.
CJ: Any fun facts/stories from his time at Kansas State?
JM: Possibly the most interesting story about Jordan Willis is how there are no stories about Jordan Willis. This is a guy who's so quiet and cerebral that his high school teammates never elected him captain, but his classmates elected him student council president. When his K-State teammates *did* elect him captain, he tried to get out of it until Bill Snyder convinced him he'd be exceptional in the role.
Some might read that as a weakness, but it just speaks to Willis preferring to lead by example and let his play speak for him, whereas a captain is sort of expected to be vocal. He learned how, though, and K-State's other captains actually deferred to Willis throughout his senior season.
CJ: He seems incredibly smart and also like a guy who keeps to himself. He said he spent the draft weekend alone in his room in his house until he was drafted and didn't have anyone there. Is that indicative of the guy you've come to know at K State?
JM: Oh, absolutely. Don't get me wrong; the guy has friends and a social life. But he's also just as likely to just stay home and watch TV or read than he is to go out, and good luck finding any wild party stories with his name attached. If there were one thing I'd say about Willis to truly encapsulate his personality, it's this: his kids are probably going to be exceptional humans.
CJ: Did he have any significant injuries in college?
JM: As a senior, only eight defensive linemen in all of college football were on the field for more snaps than Willis. Starting with the season opener in 2014, he started every game for K-State, and only once left the field with assistance. He came right back the next series. He's very durable.
CJ: Anything else you think Bengals fans would want to know about him?
JM: The dude is a leader, and while he's sometimes very sober and serious he's also very pleasant. His coursework at K-State was, for all intents and purposes, a pre-law track, so you know what sort of brain you're getting, too. If Cincy fans can appreciate a quiet guy who comes across off-the-field as a bit of a gentle giant, whose interviews are thoughtful and direct, they'll fall in love with him.