Since Michael Johnson’s first stint with the Cincinnati Bengals ended, the team has not had the formidable pass rush it was once known for. Geno Atkins has largely been his same dominant self and Carlos Dunlap has come into his own, but without any other consistent threat on the defensive line it’s easy for opposing teams to game plan for the Bengals and take the only two defensive line threats out of the game. However, those days should be coming to and end with the selection of Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, the Bengals’ Round 3 draft pick in 2017. Here are 5 reasons he should see considerable playing time in 2017.
1) Michael Johnson’s play no longer justifies a starting role
Since Johnson returned to Cincinnati from Tampa Bay, he has severely underperformed. He has been a liability against the run and minimally factored into the passing game. A player who was once a decent starter has turned into a replacement level player. It would be easy for Willis to outperform Johnson during his rookie season if he is actually given a chance to do so.
2) The Bengals desperately need speed off the edge
Willis is what some people would classify as a freak athlete. He posted extremely impressive scores in nearly every drill at the Scouting Combine. His 4.53 40-yard dash, 39.0" vertical jump, 6.85 second 3-cone drill and 4.28 second 20-yard shuttle were all the top performances among defensive ends this year. On draft day, the war between tape and measurables was won by tape, as based purely off of measurables he should have been a first round pick. Ultimately, the Bengals were able to snag him in the third round. Now, the biggest challenge for Willis to really get his career off the ground and become a superstar is to learn how to properly utilize his dangerous speed. He needs to improve at taking the edge on the offensive tackle and winning outside with a combination of his speed and power. If he can do that, he should prove to be an upgrade of Johnson.
3) The defensive line needs new complimentary players
After restocking the defensive line during the past two drafts, the Bengals have four interesting defensive line prospects who haven’t seen the field at all with three fourth rounders in defensive tackles Ryan Glasgow and Andrew Billings and Carl Lawson, who the Bengals are experimenting with at linebacker, despite his playing defensive end in college. The biggest addition of course is Willis and he will hopefully be the future at defensive end, along with Dunlap. With these young players, the Bengals should be able to get a good rotation going and keep everybody fresh.
4) Willis is a dominant pass rusher and is also fantastic against the run
The Bengals don’t typically give rookie defenders a lot of snaps early on. Due to the bleak looking situation along the defensive line and Willis’ well rounded abilities as a prospect, we could see the Bengals buck that trend. The Bengals likely wouldn’t want to give a rookie defensive end a ton of snaps if he wasn’t good in run support. Lucky, Willis is an excellent run defender, is good at sealing the edge and wrapping up the running back. All of these traits will need to be seen at the NFL level, but if he plays the way he did during his final year of college, he should provide qualities the Bengals can’t help but utilize right away.
5) The Bengals need to keep talented pass rushers on the field
The Bengals current defensive scheme relies upon four defensive lineman to get the necessary pressure as a unit, rather than on blitzing. When the Bengals had many talented pass rushers who could all get after the quarterback, this was a brilliant strategy as it allowed the team to drop the maximum amount of bodies into coverage. However, when the team is unable to get home with four defensive lineman, the opposing quarterback is often left free to tear apart the defense, taking as much time as he needs to let his wide receivers find a hole in the zone. The Bengals need Willis to come in and help with this dilemma if they want to have any hope in competing for the division crown and potentially the Super Bowl. Pressure is key to winning football games and the Bengals need to get more pressure. That was a big reason for drafting Willis and it’s a big reason why he should see the field early and often during his rookie year.