Certainly most K-State fans expected star defensive end Jordan Willis to go higher than the 3rd round in the 2017 NFL Draft, some of us even thought he should have gone in the 1st round — and some of the “draft experts” agreed.
But he slipped, and the rest is history. The other day Rebecca Tobeck at fellow SB Nation site Cincy Jungle got some questions answered by our own Jon Morse about the Bengals surprising steal in the 3rd round, and she was kind enough to answer some questions from us about what Jordan Willis is going into in Cincy, what fans are expecting of him, and even how Bengals fans feel about K-State players in general.
I daresay most K-State fans know little about the Cincinnati Bengals. What type of defensive system do the Bengals run, and how do you see Jordan Willis fitting in?
The Bengals run a 4-3 defense and I think Willis will fit in really well. The Bengals typically get their defensive rookies involved very slowly. Some of the team's best players like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap were hardly, if at all, involved in their rookie years. I really hope that is not the case for Jordan Willis. The Bengals' pass rush was severely lacking last year. Atkins and Dunlap are Pro Bowlers, but beyond the two of them, the team is lacking backups who can get to the quarterback. I think Willis will be used early on in a rotational role and if he can make an impact as a pass rusher, he'll see more time on the field. Michael Johnson just had has worst season and I think by 2018, the hope is that Willis deserves his job as a starter.
The Bengals got lucky in drafting three first-round talents in a row. We all know why Joe Mixon slipped in the draft, but why do you think Willis slipped so far into the third round?
I think the number one question surrounding Jordan Willis is how he made it to the Bengals in Round 3. I know Mike Mayock's day-before-the-draft mock draft had him going to the Steelers in Round 1. So, how he lasted to the top of Round 3 is a great question, and hopefully it's one that continues to make no sense as Willis proves his doubters wrong and has a great rookie season (and beyond) with the Bengals. From what I've seen so far, he seems like a great guy, great player and I don't think anyone would have questioned him being a Round 1-2 pick, so it's awesome for Cincinnati that they got him in Round 3.
With that in mind, what would you grade this pick? Would that change if the Bengals had grabbed Willis earlier, like in Mixon’s spot in the second round?
Bengals fans graded this pick higher than any of the team's 10 other selections in the draft. You can check out our poll here. 72% of the 3,559 Bengals fans who voted in our Jordan Willis approval poll gave the pick an A. Only a combined 6% of fans graded the pick with a C, D or F.
We all know what Willis did in a Wildcat uniform, and he will likely go down as one of the best defensive ends in K-State history. What do you expect from Jordan as he enters the League, and “peering in the crystal ball”, what do you think could be Jordan’s legacy as a Bengal?
I'm hoping for great things. I think the best case scenario for Jordan Willis is to become a key rotational player along the defensive line in 2017 as a rookie, and then a starter in 2018 and beyond. I'd love to see him dominate next to Dunlap and think it's certainly possible. It would be awesome for this pick to go down as one of the Bengals' best-ever draft selections. One thing of note, I believe he played mostly on the left end in college, but, he's expected to play more on the right side with the Bengals as Dunlap has the left side on lockdown.
Finally, the Bengals have had some success in recent history with former Wildcats in Terence Newman and Emmanuel Lamur . What do you remember most from their stints in Cincinnati?
I would say beyond their playing ability, Newman and Lamur both were standout community members and great guys in Cincinnati. It seems like Kansas State has brought up some awesome people! Newman is considered one of the greatest-ever Bengals free agent signings. He's defied age and he got away due to the Bengals love for drafting Round 1 cornerbacks (there are four first round cornerbacks on the roster right now). The team wanted to give its draft picks a shot and in the process, Newman got away just like he came, in free agency, reuniting with Mike Zimmer. I think every Bengals player who got to play with Newman in Cincinnati just has continually positive things to say about him. When Dre Kirkpatrick signed his new deal this offseason, he referenced the impact Newman had on him. Lamur defied the odds as an undrafted player to make the Bengals' roster, and lasted through his rookie deal. Now, he, too is reunited with Zimmer in Minnesota.
Bonus Question: What on Earth is “Skyline Chili” and why do Cincinnatians love it so much?
Haha, love the question! Skyline Chili is essentially Mediterranean-spiced chili that's placed on top of spaghetti and then is topped with tons of shredded cheddar cheese. You can also get it with onions (which is referred to as a four-way), with beans (four-way bean), or five way (onions and beans). Skyline is one of the places best known for the dish. There's also Gold Star, which is the brand they have at Bengals games. Why Cincinnatians love it so much? I really cannot say. But, they do! It's definitely a love it or hate it thing and people in Cincinnati typically get very defensive in regards to their love of the dish. You can also get Cincinnati chili on hot dogs ("coneys"), which are also topped with cheese (and optionally onions/beans), which is also a local favorite.
Be sure and also check out some of Rebecca’s other work on Willis at Cincy Jungle