Jordan Willis had easily confirmed his status as a sure-fire draft pick by following up an excellent junior campaign with a stellar senior season. But that status was generally expected to be that of a mid-level pick.
Hard work after season’s end, dedication, drive, and — most importantly — a knockout performance in the NFL Combine all came together to give everyone hope that he might land late in the first round, and definitely in the second.
And then, for some reason, it didn’t happen.
So after an interminable wait, with some patently absurd selections that weren’t the 6’4” 255 lb. Willis, with the 9th pick in the third round (73rd overall) the Cincinnati Bengals opted to invest in the Wildcat defensive end.
Willis, from Rockhurst High in Kansas City, Mo., enters the NFL with a briefcase full of collegiate honors. The pass rusher was a unanimous first team All-Big 12 selection as a senior, as well as being named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Lineman of the Year. He earned second-team All-American honors from the Sporting News and third-team from the Associated Press. As a senior, he tied the K-State school record with 11.5 sacks, 26 for his career.
It was the combine which saw his draft stock rocket upward, however. Willis was either first or second among all defensive linemen in three of the six workout measurables: an eye-popping 4.53 40, a 39” vertical, and an absurd 6.85 3 cone drill time. He was also top-five in the 20-yard shuttle. Those numbers did a great deal to defray some of the concerns about his scouted weaknesses, many of which focused on his speed and maneuverability. But perhaps those weaknesses still conspired to keep Willis out of the first round, where many pundits had projected him to go late.
Perhaps most importantly for the Bengals — especially with their second round decision to draft Joe Mixon — they have now acquired the rights to a player Bill Snyder himself described as the epitome of Kansas State football. K-State doesn’t get the best raw talent out of high school, but when the Hall of Fame coach offers that sort of praise, a general manager knows he’s getting a guy who will do two things better than anyone else: work and learn.