When you think of young Bengal pass rushers, you probably instantly jump to Carl Lawson. Lawson had 8.5 sacks last season as a rookie after all.
However, the defensive end that was drafted before him last season could start to become more of a household name to Bengals fans next season.
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com thinks Jordan Willis could be taking on a bigger role next season, even if the incumbent Michael Johnson still has a big role. Willis being a starter would obviously mean Johnson plays less, but the veteran did find a nice role as an interior pass rusher last season, so he could still get a heavy amount of snaps even if Willis is starting.
Here’s what Hobson had to say on the matter:
I’m a Jordan Willis guy, too, but I think he makes Michael Johnson better. Willis figures to be the every-down right end, but Johnson revived his career last season when he moved inside on passing downs. Johnson should be even better playing fewer snaps. He can give you six to seven to eight sacks in that role a la Wallace Gilberry. Plus, Mike’s leadership and what he means to the group and team is huge. This is a developmental year for Sam Hubbard, although he’ll help as a rusher on passing downs.
Willis as an every-down player would be a huge difference from his role last season. Willis played roughly 31 percent of the Bengals defensive snaps last season as the last defensive end off the bench.
The team also threw him inside on occasion during obvious passing situations. It was obvious though that he was the low man on the totem pole. Even Chris Smith played around 35 percent of the snaps while Lawson reached 41 percent.
Smith has since left for Cleveland in free agency, and the Bengals plan to use Lawson more as a linebacker and defensive end this season to add some versatility to his game. That leaves Willis and the rookie Hubbard as the only real defensive ends aside from Johnson and Carlos Dunlap (who isn’t currently attending OTAs).
Hobson does have a point of less could be more with Johnson. He had a few games where he looked really good, but he isn’t the kind of guy who can play almost 60 percent of the snaps like he did last season.
You could probably straight up swap Willis’ and Johnson’s roles and see a better outcome. I don’t see Johnson getting to seven or eight sacks like Hobson implies, but I think he is still a nice veteran presence as well as a quality backup player.
It would be hard for Willis to not improve from his totals last season. He only had a single sack, 25 tackles and ESPN credited him with three stuffs.
One Bengals’ coach even said he thought he should’ve been out there more last season. With a year under his belt as a pro and almost double the playing time, it isn’t crazy to think Willis could become a more productive member of this defense next season.
He is definitely a name that Bengals fans should keep an eye out for next season.