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NFL Draft Profiles: Jordan Willis quietly jumps up the rankings of edge rushers

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A quiet guy from a quiet college town, Jordan Willis has made some big splashes on the field in recent weeks and could be one of the earlier pass-rushers off the board in this year’s draft.

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Kansas State vs Arkansas Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Willis is not a loud or boisterous individual. At the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, Willis spoke with a calm and confident, but controlled demeanor.

One day later, he attacked the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium as if it had personally offended him.

Willis, a defensive end out of Kansas State, posted arguably the most impressive workout of any edge rusher in the 2017 NFL Draft class at the Combine, showing the explosiveness and speed that made him the Big XII Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. Take a look at the numbers:

  • 4.53-second 40-yard dash with 1.54-second 10-yard split
  • 39” vertical jump
  • 10’5” broad jump
  • 6.85-second 3-cone drill
  • 4.28-second short shuttle

To make things more impressive, he posted all of those numbers after measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, putting him squarely in the running to be labeled a “Force Player” by Bleacher Report’s Justis Mosqueda.

Despite those numbers, Willis is more than just a freak athlete. He’s a student of the game, who calls upon current and former NFL players to help him prepare for the Draft and for his NFL career. “When the process started back before the Senior Bowl, I gave Tyler Lockett a call, Jordy Nelson a call,” Willis said at the Combine, referencing a pair of former Kansas State Wildcat wideouts who are now in the NFL. “I spoke to a lot of good people about it and how it was going to go here (in Indy).”

He also has trained with a Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman, Will Shields for a long time: “I’ve been working with Will since kind of like high school.” Learning from one of the best linemen to play the game has certainly improved his technique as a pass-rushing defensive end. “He just teaches me handwork, what to expect from offensive linemen,” Willis said. “All the small things — hip work, foot speed, things like that.”

Above all, however, Willis comes in and does his job, despite getting little fanfare in the media in Manhattan, Kansas. He approach is the same each day: “(I) just try to put my best foot forward and be the best I can be. That’s how I played at Kansas State. I’m in the middle of the Midwest — not a lot of attention.” As for how that has translated to the football field? “I’d say I’m a consistent player.”

However, Willis is looking forward to maximizing his talent on a bit less of a workload at the NFL level than he had for Coach Bill Snyder. “We were a 3-man rotation ... some games I would play the entire game,” he said. In the NFL, though, with a bigger rotation, he expects to be more effective on every snap: “Sometimes with my takeoff it will be very explosive, it looks good. Obviously when I get tired, taking off seven or eight times in a row ... it looks a little bit slower.” It all comes back to consistency for Willis, though. “(In) a little bit more rotation, then that takeoff will be the same or more consistent throughout the game.”

Still, consistency was not a problem for the Big XII’s leading sack man in 2016. He racked up 11.5 sacks and totaled 17.5 tackles for loss, one year after he finished with 8.5 and 14.5 respectively as a Junior. He also forced three fumbles in each of those two seasons.

Willis is quickly climbing up draft boards, and after his Combine performance he should be drafted no later than day two. He also knows that 3-4 teams are looking at him as a stand-up linebacker: “Every team that I’ve spoken to (at the Combine), I may drop (in coverage) a couple of times.” But he’s a pass-rusher through and through, and he will likely find a landing spot quickly on the weekend of April 27.

After that, it’s time to put his head down and get back to work.