Many fans expected the Bengals to come out of the 2019 draft with another wide receiver, but they did not. However, immediately after the draft, the Bengals acquired Stanley Morgan Jr., who many thought should have been taken on early Day 3. Excitement built around Morgan, but as I did research on the Bengals class of UDFAs, a new contender emerged.
Damion Willis was a name that was not getting much of any pre-draft buzz, but a look at his film shows a player who could make a huge impact on Sundays. The East Mississippi Community College transfer (as seen on Netflix’s Last Chance U) tore it up for two seasons at Troy with 56 receptions for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns coming in his final season.
Let’s take a look.
This first clip shows Willis running a vertical route on the outside. Although the TV camera angle cuts off the majority of the route, you can see that he manages to stack the cornerback who is playing man against him. Willis does a great job tracking the ball and making an excellent over-the-shoulder catch. The Bengals could use another deep threat with A.J. Green and John Ross both dealing with injuries. Willis could be that guy.
Look at Damion Willis track this ball on the fly— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) August 4, 2019
This is a great play by Willis from “Family Dey” at Bengals training camp. The team gets some goal line seven-on-seven work. He works to the corner of the end zone and once again, he tracks the ball over his shoulder and catches it in stride.
damion willis v davontae harris pic.twitter.com/RfBHNOEXfu— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 3, 2019
This next pass came in high and hard, but Willis makes the catch in stride and turns the short pass into a 75-yard touchdown. In this case, he is wide open, but balls are often zipped in like this to get into tight windows in coverage. Willis shows great ball skills here to react and make the catch on a pass coming in with velocity. He also demonstrates great speed, outrunning the pursuit on his way to a touchdown.
On this play, Willis goes up and high points the ball in the back of the end zone. He shows excellent hands and does a great job of getting his feet down in bounds. This kind of athleticism and awareness will come in handy when trying to make catches both in the back of the end zone and on the sideline.
Damion Willis is a ridiculous athlete pic.twitter.com/fjCFwVOt2n— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) August 4, 2019
At 6-3 and 204 pounds, Willis has excellent size. Here he leaps into the air and gets full extension with his arms to make the touchdown catch. This is a great play and shows how Willis could be a threat for the Bengals inside the 40-yard line.
Willis makes an absurd one-handed catch against tight coverage in this clip. His ball skills and athletic ability give him massive potential to be successful in the league. Not unlike Green, he is the kind of player who a quarterback can count on to get him out of a bad situation.
As you can see, Willis’ film is littered with him doing ludicrous things. Here, South Alabama’s cornerback is in great position, but Willis goes up in the air, reaches over his back and steals the interception away from him, Look at how furious the cornerback is after the play. Don’t be surprised when Willis does things like this against Cleveland, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, and their defensive backs get irate.
This dude was SURE he had a pick! Damion Willis had other plans pic.twitter.com/RIRqsoGd9N— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) August 4, 2019
Boise State had Willis covered tightly on this play, but he once again wins. He not only does a great job of high-pointing the ball, he also turns his body to shield it from the defender as he comes down. This is just one example of how his spacial awareness is simply off the charts.
Willis makes a great adjustment to a poorly thrown ball here. Not only does he turn back to make the catch, he spins all the way around and manages to gain roughly another 10 yards on the play.
Ridiculous body control from Damion Willis pic.twitter.com/srbmBUeczt— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) August 4, 2019
I hate to refer to anything surrounding an injury as a silver lining, but Green being out and Ross being sidelined early in camp has created an opportunity for other receivers to step up. It is rare for a UDFA to get a chance to work with the first team, but that is the situation Willis is in.
There is a steep learning curve for wide receivers in the NFL but, working with Andy Dalton and the first team offense will certainly help Willis with that. Willis could be a standout player for the Bengals and a great story of UDFA success.