Jordan Willis could be primed for a breakout season in 2018.
Going into 2017, the Bengals had to find someone who can compliment 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 had been able to keep that from happening and make an impact himself.
But while Willis looked like the kind of guy who could fill that role, that ultimately was occupied by fellow rookie Carl Lawson, who became the Bengals’ best rookie in 2017.
Lawson was a force off the edge and was exactly what the Bengals needed next to Atkins and Dunlap, but Willis still managed to see occasional defensive snaps. Willis appeared in all 16 games and recorded 25 tackles and one sack.
Nothing to brag about, but when you get limited snaps, it’s hard to produce.
That’s a mistake the Bengals admit they made last year, according to ESPN’s Katherine Terrell, who got this nugget while interviewing Bengals coaches:
Lawson and Willis, now second-year players, will factor heavily into the Bengals’ plans this year.
Toward the end of the meeting, one coach comments that Willis should’ve gotten on the field more in 2017.
Willis was a force at Kansas State in his final collegiate season, racking up 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 52 total tackles. Putting up those kinds of numbers is good at any league, let alone a Power 5 conference like the Big 12.
Part of why Willis didn’t see the field more in 2017 was he entered the league undersized for a 4-3 defensive end at 6’4” and 255 pounds. But with a full year to bulk up, he should be ready for a much bigger role in the 2018 season.
It sounds like the Bengals are banking on it.