The Cincinnati Bengals made national headlines when they traded back to select controversial running back Joe Mixon with the 48th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But while the initial buzz of Mixon’s pick was rocketing around the Twittersphere, the draft kept going. With its third-round pick, Cincinnati drafted Jordan Willis, a defensive end from Kansas State.
Bengals have added three first-round talents in John Ross, Joe Mixon, and Jordan Willis
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) April 29, 2017
Willis was 2016’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year thanks to his 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He led the conference with three forced fumbles, too.
Willis anchored a defense that helped lead Kansas State to a 9-4 record and a win over Texas A&M in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl last December, a game where Willis had four tackles, one tackle for loss, and a quarterback hurry, while Myles Garrett, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, had just one tackle. It was only Kansas State’s second bowl victory since 2002.
Over his four-year career with the Wildcats, Willis placed his name in the Big 12 record books. He finished with the ninth most tackles for loss in conference history (40) and the fifth most sacks (25.5), one spot ahead of five-time Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller sits atop the list with 33.
The Bengals’ drafting of Willis marked the 24th consecutive year Kansas State had at least one NFL draftee.
After going with two offensive play-makers to start the draft, the Bengals finally addressed a need by drafting Willis. Last season, over half of the team’s sacks came from the duo of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
Early on, it seems like this pick was a steal by the Bengals. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock only released one first-round mock draft prior to start of the draft on Thursday night.
In his one and only mock, Mayock projected Willis as a first-round pick, going 30th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the same team that drafted Mayock in the 10th round of the 1981 draft.
The first round of the Draft@MikeMayock's first & only mock draft of the year!
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) April 27, 2017
Sure, with the craziness of this year’s draft – especially in the first round – it’s understandable that Mayock, like everyone else, was way off on their mock picks. However, Mayock is considered one of the best in the business and has worked for NFL Network since 2005.
Pittsburgh’s actual pick was a defensive end/linebacker, but it was Wisconsin product T.J. Watt, the younger brother of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
Mayock isn’t the only one who gave some first-round speculation to Willis. Pro Football Focus was even higher on him, ranking him the 15th player on their board with an overall grade of 91.4.
The Bengals draft Kansas State edge defender Jordan Willis with the 73rd pick. No. 15 player on our board.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 29, 2017
The Bengals will look to get production from the 6’3”, 225-pound defender right away. Since Cincinnati drafted Dunlap in the second round in 2010, the Bengals have only drafted three defensive ends. Margus Hunt underachieved greatly, totaling just 1.5 sacks in four years. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts in March.
The other two, Will Clarke and Marcus Hardison, are still on the roster. Hardison is still trying to work his way onto the field and Clarke improved last season, racking up four sacks, third most on the team behind Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
Willis is the fourth Kansas State product ever drafted by the Bengals. He joins running back Isaac Jackson (15th round, 1974), wide receiver John Tuttle (16th round, 1975), and tackle Tim Stone (11th round, 1986).