The Bengals had high hoped when they drafted Jordan Willis in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.
Willis appeared to be the planned replacement for Michael Jordan at defensive end, but he hasn’t really taken that next step. Now, it looks like he could be getting passed up by his younger peers.
This season could be the most important of Willis’ career.
Weight: 270 lbs
College: Kansas State
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Experience: Entering his third season
Willis is entering the third season of his rookie contract that is worth $3.617 million, according to Spotrac.com. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent during the 2021 offseason. Willis will count for just over $980,000 against the Bengals cap in 2019. The Bengals would be hit with $452,000 in dead cap if the team were to part ways with the young defensive lineman.
Willis spent three seasons at Kansas State where he started his last three seasons at defensive end. He finished his career tied for third in school history with 26 career sacks. He also had 31.5 tackles for a loss his final two seasons.
The Bengals drafted WIllis in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. At the end of Day 2 of the draft it appeared he was going to be the replacement for Johnson when the team eventually moved on. Then the Bengals drafted Carl Lawson in the fourth round, and he quickly stole the spotlight at defensive end with his 8.5 sacks his rookie season. Willis ended up quietly recording a sack and four tackles for a loss.
2018 wasn’t much better despite Lawson missing a chunk of the season with an ACL injury. He again recorded a sack and four tackles for a loss while being pretty good against the run on the edge. Willis also saw plenty of snaps go to rookie defensive end Sam Hubbard.
Training camp has given a strong indication that Cincinnati is leaning heavily towards Hubbard and Lawson over Willis to fill Johnson’s spot this season. Hubbard has been playing with the first-team defense, and Lawson has seen plenty of time with the second while the team brings him back slowly as he recovers from his injury.
Willis is looking like he will be a rotational player, which is in no means a slight against him. Cincinnati has been very good about rotating in defensive linemen to keep everyone fresh, and Willis will see his fair share of snaps.
What he is able to do with those snaps this season may determine if the Bengals decide if they need to start looking toward who can fill that role going forward, or if he could possibly take Carlos Dunlap’s spot down the road.
How many snaps Kerry Wynn gets may determine how much of a jump (if any) we see in Willis’ production. In addition, Lawson has looked great in his recovery from a torn ACL, but the Bengals will probably manage his snaps, at least early on, which could give Willis more chances to impress in the first part of the regular season.
Willis’ spot is relatively safe, and it helps that can play inside on passing downs. He has been one of many defensive end the Bengals have liked to kick inside during pass rush situations, but that list has become pretty long with Hubbard and Wynn also being able to do that.
Willis’ production during the preseason has helped his cause, but it’s still not a done deal he makes it through final cuts, especially with guys like Andrew Brown impressing in the preseason.
Roster odds: 75%