Cincinnati badly needed pass-rushers coming into the NFL Draft, and they ended up getting one of the best in this class in Round 3. The former Kansas State defensive end was regarded as a top-tier pass-rusher in this class, but he somehow fell late into Day 2 before the Bengals snatched him up with the 73rd overall pick.
Willis was a force for the Wildcats this past season, recording 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 52 total tackles. That came after a standout junior season in which he had 8.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 34 total tackles.
Putting up those kinds of numbers is great at any league, let alone a Power 5 conference like the Big 12. To do it for two straight years speaks to how good of a player Willis is, and he has a great chance of making a big impact as a rookie.
The Bengals had to find someone who can complement this defensive line and take pressure off of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, two Pro Bowl-caliber players who get heavily focused on by opposing offenses.
No other lineman has been able to keep that from happening and make an impact himself. Willis is the kind of guy who can make some noise himself while freeing up Dunlap and Atkins more.
And with Michael Johnson wearing down as that second starting end, it’s possible Willis takes his job within the next year or two. It’s also worth pointing out that Dunlap is only under contract for two more seasons, and he figures to get another hefty payday in 2019. Having Willis here can give the Bengals some leverage in negotiations and not be forced to overpay Dunlap, who will be 30 years old that year.
For now, expect Willis to have a situational role in 2017 while getting a lot of snaps on obvious passing downs.
The Bengals have now signed all 11 of their 2017 draft picks.