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William Jackson III and Jordan Willis’ athleticism compared to top NFL players

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Neither WJ3 or Jordan Willis have taken a snap in the NFL yet, but each possess the athleticism to shine on the Bengals defense for years to come.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The best players in the NFL at their respective positions are not always the supreme athletes. But athletic testing results are becoming increasingly noticeable in regards to why certain players fail, and why some succeed. Luckily, the Cincinnati Bengals seem to be on the right side of this trend.

2016 first-round cornerback William Jackson III and 2017 third-round defensive end Jordan Willis are the Bengals two highest-drafted defensive players of their last three drafts. Draft status is one indicator as far as high expectations and passing athletic thresholds for players of similar draft status is another thing entirely. Looking at both Jackson and Willis’ athletic profiles compared to other players of similar talent level (in the the form of draft status) and athleticism coming out of college, it’s clear to see the upside that comes with investing in athleticism and how much that matters early in the draft.

Let’s begin with Jackson. In the weeks leading up to the draft, Bleacher Report’s Justis Mosqueda found Jackson was one of 11 first-round cornerbacks to pass certain athletic thresholds. The company he is in is quite impressive:

The Bengals have drafted three cornerbacks in the first round since Leon Hall, who just so happens to be listed here. 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick had a bumpy start to his career but has rounded out at least some consistency to his game to now be classified as a passable starting level corner. 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard has had even less starts in his first three years than Kirkpatrick did, and is still vying for a starting spot after showing erratic play to start his career. Neither cornerback tested as fast or flexible as Jackson, and that’s why it’s rational to be optimistic when considering the 2016 first rounder. All three were drafted around the same spot in their respective classes, but only one tested at the level of certain high quality players.

Jackson is in good company with this list, but we can take a step further and set the height threshold at 5’11” and set the 40 yard dash threshold at 4.40, to more accurately depict a proper list for Jackson:

Cornerback Data

Year Player Pos AV/Eligible Year Peak AV School Height Wt 40YD BenchReps Vertical Broad Jump 3Cone Shuttle Drafted (tm/rnd/yr)
Year Player Pos AV/Eligible Year Peak AV School Height Wt 40YD BenchReps Vertical Broad Jump 3Cone Shuttle Drafted (tm/rnd/yr)
2011 Patrick Peterson CB 13.17 20 LSU 72.25 219 4.31 15 38 126 6.58 4.07 Arizona Cardinals / 1st / 5th pick / 2011
2012 Stephon Gilmore CB 5.60 8 South Carolina 72.50 190 4.38 15 36 123 6.61 3.94 Buffalo Bills / 1st / 10th pick / 2012
2007 Darrelle Revis CB 11.67 21 Pittsburgh 71.50 204 4.38 16 38 125 6.56 4.08 New York Jets / 1st / 14th pick / 2007
2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie CB 7.13 10 Tennessee State 73.50 184 4.29 17 38.5 131 6.74 4.17 Arizona Cardinals / 1st / 16th pick / 2008
2007 Leon Hall CB 7.29 15 Michigan 71.25 193 4.39 15 37.5 125 6.5 4.07 Cincinnati Bengals / 1st / 18th pick / 2007
2013 Desmond Trufant CB 5.75 9 Washington 71.63 190 4.38 16 37.5 125 6.67 3.85 Atlanta Falcons / 1st / 22nd pick / 2013
2016 William Jackson III CB DNP DNP Houston 72.38 189 4.37 10 116 6.86 4.32 Cincinnati Bengals / 1st / 24th pick / 2016
2009 Vontae Davis CB 8.00 10 Illinois 71.13 203 4.4 25 36 125 6.75 4.07 Miami Dolphins / 1st / 25th pick / 2009
2014 Bradley Roby CB DNP 3 Ohio State 71.25 194 4.39 17 38.5 124 6.74 4.04 Denver Broncos / 1st / 31st pick / 2014

Of this list, Jackson has both the lowest broad jump and slowest short shuttle. He’s fast and tall, but his explosion and overall flexibility isn’t quite at that level. I decided to take this further to see if that’s worrisome.

Here’s a list of every cornerback who made an AP All-Pro team at the age of 30 or under from 2007-2016. I only listed a player once; when he made his first All-Pro team in this timeframe:

All-Pro Data

Year Player All-Pro Team AGE AV Height Wt 40YD Bench Vertical Broad 3Cone Shuttle Drafted Team Round Overall Pick Year
Year Player All-Pro Team AGE AV Height Wt 40YD Bench Vertical Broad 3Cone Shuttle Drafted Team Round Overall Pick Year
2007 Asante Samuel 1st Team 26 15 70.88 185 4.49 9 35.5 120 6.95 4.14 New England Patriots 4th 120th 2003
2007 Champ Bailey 2nd Team 29 11 73 184 4.28 37 121 3.79 Washington Redskins 1st 7th 1999
2007 Antonio Comartie 1st Team 23 14 74.13 208 4.44 18 38 132 7.02 3.89 San Diego Chargers 1st 19th 2006
2008 Nnamdi Asomugha 1st Team 27 13 74.38 213 4.45 16 37.5 124 Oakland Raiders 1st 31st 2003
2008 Cortland Finnegan 1st Team 24 18 69.88 188 4.34 14 44 128 6.95 4.34 Tennessee Titans 7th 215th 2006
2009 Leon Hall 2nd Team 25 15 71.25 193 4.39 15 37.5 125 6.5 4.07 Cincinnati Bengals 1st 18th 2007
2009 Darrelle Revis 1st Team 24 21 71.5 204 4.38 16 38 125 6.56 4.08 New York Jets 1st 14th 2007
2010 Devin McCourtey 2nd Team 23 11 70.75 193 4.38 16 36 126 6.7 4.07 New England Patriots 1st 27th 2010
2010 Malcolm Jenkins 2nd Team 23 11 72.13 204 4.51 15 33 124 6.59 4.08 New Orleans Saints 1st 14th 2009
2011 Johnathan Joseph 2nd Team 27 13 71 193 4.31 15 37 123 6.94 4.27 Cincinnati Bengals 1st 24th 2006
2011 Carlos Rogers 2nd Team 30 14 72.38 196 4.44 15 40.5 126 6.48 3.82 Washington Redskins 1st 9th 2005
2012 Richard Sherman 1st Team 24 18 74.63 195 4.54 16 38 125 6.82 4.33 Seattle Seahawks 5th 154th 2011
2012 Tim Jennings 2nd Team 29 13 67.75 185 4.32 17 37.5 117 4.34 Indianapolis Colts 2nd 62nd 2006
2013 Patrick Peterson 1st Team 23 15 72.25 219 4.31 15 38 126 6.58 4.07 Arizona Cardinals 1st 5th 2011
2013 Joe Haden 2nd Team 24 11 70.75 193 4.52 18 35 125 6.94 4.34 Cleveland Browns 1st 7th 2010
2013 Aqib Talib 2nd Team 27 11 72.75 202 4.44 10 38 131 6.82 4.25 Tampa By Buccaneers 1st 20th 2008
2013 Alterraun Verner 2nd Team 25 12 70.13 189 4.52 11 32 116 6.7 4.12 Tennessee Titans 4th 104th 2010
2014 Chris Harris 2nd Team 25 11 69 194 4.48 14 34 121 7.01 4.2 Denver Broncos 2011
2015 Josh Norman 1st Team 28 15 72.25 197 4.61 14 33 124 7.09 4.23 Carolina Panthers 5th 143rd 2012
2015 Marcus Peters 2nd Team 22 11 71.63 197 4.53 17 37.5 121 7.08 4.08 Kansas City Chiefs 1st 18th 2015
2016 Malcolm Butler 2nd Team 26 13 69.75 187 4.62 13 33.5 118 7.2 4.27 New England Patriots 2014
2016 Janoris Jenkins 2nd Team 28 12 70 193 4.41 33.5 121 6.95 4.13 St. Louis Rams 2nd 39th 2012
2016 Casey Heyward 2nd Team 27 11 71.38 192 4.47 19 34 119 6.76 3.9 Green Bay Packers 2nd 62nd 2012
2016 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 2nd Team 30 9 73.5 184 4.29 17 38.5 131 6.74 4.17 Arizona Cardinals 1st 16th 2008

You can see why cornerbacks tend to go off the board in bunches early on. It’s very rare to get a high quality cornerback late in the draft, and it’s imperative that team’s continually draft cornerbacks. The trends are pretty clear among the best cornerbacks in the league: 40 yard dash times lower than the 4.5 range, 3-cone times lower than seven seconds, and broad jump distances longer than 120”.

The short shuttle times don’t seem to carry much correlation here. Just like there are a few cornerbacks with sub 120” broad jumps, there a some with short shuttles in the high 4.2 range as well as the 4.3 range. For first-round talents like Jackson, Joe Haden, former Bengal Johnathan Joseph and Aqib Talib all had relatively high times. But it should be said that first-round selections such as Darrelle Revis, Carlos Rogers and Champ Bailey all turned out to be great players at their peak and that elite flexibility shown by their fast short shuttle times most definitely had something to do with their top tier ability.

For added measures, I went to look specifically at the top 15 graded cornerbacks from the NFL 1000 project from Bleacher Report:

NFL 1000 Top 15 Cornerbacks

RK Player Team AGE Height Wt 40YD Bench Vertical Broad 3Cone Shuttle Drafted Team Round Overall Pick Year Grade
RK Player Team AGE Height Wt 40YD Bench Vertical Broad 3Cone Shuttle Drafted Team Round Overall Pick Year Grade
1 Chris Harris DEN 27 69.00 194 4.48 14 34 121 7.01 4.2 Denver Broncos 2011 77.3
2 Janoris Jenkins NYG 28 70.00 193 4.41 33.5 121 6.95 4.13 St. Louis Rams 2nd 39th 2012 74.5
3 Marcus Peters KC 23 71.63 197 4.53 17 37.5 121 7.08 4.08 Kansas City Chiefs 1st 22nd 2015 74.3
4 Patrick Peterson ARZ 26 72.25 219 4.31 15 38 126 6.58 4.07 Arizona Cardinals 1st 5th 2011 73
5 Desmond Trufant ATL 26 71.63 190 4.38 16 37.5 125 6.67 3.85 Atlanta Falcons 1st 22nd 2013 73
6 Richard Sherman SEA 28 74.63 195 4.54 16 38 125 6.82 4.33 Seattle Seahawks 5th 154th 2013 72.9
7 Jimmy Smith BAL 28 74.25 211 4.42 24 36 123 6.93 4.06 Baltimore Ravens 1st 27th 2011 72.8
8 Casey Heyward SD 27 71.38 192 4.47 19 34 119 6.76 3.9 Green Bay Packers 2nd 62nd 2012 72.7
9 Aqib Talib DEN 30 72.75 202 4.44 10 38 131 6.82 4.25 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1st 20th 2008 72.5
10 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie NYG 30 73.50 184 4.29 17 38.5 131 6.74 4.17 Arizona Cardinals 1st 16th 2008 72
11 Xavier Rhodes MIN 26 73.50 210 4.43 14 40.5 132 7.29 4.65 Minnesota Vikings 1st 25th 2013 71.5
12 Trumaine Johnson LA 26 73.88 204 4.61 19 35.5 122 7.2 4.15 St. Louis Rams 3rd 65th 2012 70.5
13 Josh Norman WAS 29 72.25 197 4.61 14 33 124 7.09 4.23 Carolina Panthers 5th 143rd 2012 70.3
14 Kevin johnson HOU 24 72.25 188 4.52 41.5 130 6.79 3.89 Houston Texans 1st 16th 2015 69.8
15 Darius Slay DET 25 71.88 192 4.36 14 35.5 124 6.9 4.21 Detroit Lions 2nd 36th 2013 69.8

Most of these players were already on the All-Pro list, but some new names appeared as well. Xavier Rhodes is the obvious outlier in terms of flexibility, but he is turning into one of the more well rounded corners in the game regardless, thanks to his tremendous speed and explosion. The trend is pretty much the same with the short shuttle, with the average being right around 4.14 with a few outliers here and there.

Darius Slay is probably the best comparison to Jackson of all these corners in terms of athleticism and draft status. Slay tested with similar 40 yard dash and 3-cone times at about the same mass density as Jackson, yet both were underwhelming in the short shuttle. Slay signed a four year extension last summer with the Lions that’ll pay him $12 million dollars per year, making him the 10th highest paid cornerback, and he’s earned it with his play.


Transitioning to Willis now, his athletic profile was clean at every aspect, but athleticism for line of scrimmage players needs to be looked at with mass density in mind. For space players like cornerbacks, fast is fast, agile is agile. When you take into account that defensive ends are trying to win with force on every snap and are involved in dozens of collisions per game, being a great athlete with great size means more than just being a great athlete. If you win the battle of force, you win the rep more times than not. Being able to deliver a quality amount of force while still possessing quality athleticism is the ideal scenario.

I went and looked for the same type of thresholds for Willis and other pass rushers as Mosqueda did for cornerbacks. Here are the pass rushers drafted in the first three rounds from 2007 to this year’s draft class who are at least 6’2 1/2” tall, ran at most a 4.65 40 yard dash, and ran at most a 7.05 second 3-cone time:

Pass Rusher Data

Player Position College Overall Team Year Drafted Height Weight Density 40 Yard Spd Score 3 Cone Shuttle Flx Score Vertical Broad Bench SpdFlx Score
Player Position College Overall Team Year Drafted Height Weight Density 40 Yard Spd Score 3 Cone Shuttle Flx Score Vertical Broad Bench SpdFlx Score
Justin Houston OLB UGA 70 KC 2011 74.875 270 3.60601 4.62 0.78052 6.95 4.37 0.6371 36.5 125 30 0.70881
Trey Hendrickson DE FAU 103 NO 2017 75.875 266 3.50577 4.65 0.75393 7.03 4.2 0.62436 33.5 122 18 0.68914
Connor Barwin OLB CIN 46 HOU 2009 75.625 256 3.38512 4.59 0.7375 6.87 4.18 0.61269 40.5 128 21 0.6751
Bruce Irvin OLB WVU 15 SEA 2012 75 245 3.26667 4.41 0.74074 6.7 4.03 0.60888 33.5 123 23 0.67481
Jordan Willis DE KSU 73 CIN 2017 75.75 255 3.36634 4.53 0.74312 6.85 4.28 0.60491 39 124 24 0.67402
Cliff Avril OLB PUR 92 DET 2008 74.875 253 3.37896 4.51 0.74922 6.9 4.51 0.59228 32.5 117 27 0.67075
Von Miller OLB TAMU 2 DEN 2011 74.625 246 3.29648 4.53 0.7277 6.7 4.06 0.61273 37 126 21 0.67021
Vic Beasley OLB CLEM 8 ATL 2015 75 246 3.28 4.53 0.72406 6.91 4.15 0.59313 41 130 35 0.6586
Tyus Bowser OLB HOU 47 BAL 2017 74.625 247 3.30988 4.65 0.7118 6.75 4.34 0.59691 37.5 127 21 0.65436
Danielle Hunter DE LSU 88 MIN 2015 77.125 252 3.26742 4.57 0.71497 6.95 4.35 0.5783 36.5 130 25 0.64664
Derek Rivers DE YSU 83 NE 2017 76.125 248 3.2578 4.61 0.70668 6.94 4.4 0.57457 35 123 30 0.64062
Clay Matthews OLB USC 26 GB 2009 75.125 240 3.19468 4.58 0.69753 6.9 4.18 0.57666 35.5 121 23 0.63709
Barkevious Mingo OLB LSU 6 CLE 2013 76.25 241 3.16066 4.58 0.6901 6.84 4.39 0.5629 37 128 0.6265
Randy Gregory OLB NEB 60 DAL 2015 76.875 235 3.05691 4.61 0.6631 6.8 4.23 0.55429 36.5 125 24 0.6087

It’s far from a perfect system, but I looked at the best players in terms of speed and flexibility relative to their mass density. The speed score is calculated by comparing their density by their 40 yard dash time. Who carries the most force and who can move the best with it? The flexibility score is calculated by comparing their density by their 3-cone and short shuttle times, weighed evenly. The speed flexibility score is the average of the two.

Justin Houston sits at the top of the list because he had the most mass density of the listed players and still tested very fast and flexible. This is why Willis is also up there. Willis ranks ahead of prolific pass rushers like Von Miller, Vic Beasley and Clay Matthews by these specific metrics. If there was ever any doubt, this is just based on athleticism. This is only comparing the pass rushers who have met the necessary thresholds as well, so being at the bottom of the list is not an indictment.

Looking at the non-rookies, almost all of them were talented and technically refined enough to be drafted early and developed into productive pass rushers. The elite athleticism is what puts the great players over the decent ones. The third-round picks of the group like Willis: Houston, Cliff Avril and Danielle Hunter, have all enjoyed one season with at least 11 sacks in their careers. I believe Avril and Connor Barwin are the best athletic comparisons to Willis, and Willis was far more productive than both of them. Of course expecting production equal to these two from the start isn’t realistic, because Willis won’t be starting this year and he still has some ways to go as a pass rusher as far as counter moves. But once that clicks, the athleticism can give him an edge.

A big theme for the Bengals this year was to get younger and faster on defense. With Jackson and Willis ready to contribute in some capacity, the team is off to a very good start.