Jordan Willis' name is one that has picked up steam in relation to the Dallas Cowboys and the 2017 NFL Draft as of late. Solely based on the position he plays, a productive defensive end prospect out of Kansas State, this is not at all surprising. Talks of the Cowboys needed improvements in this draft at pass rusher have only succumbed slightly to the same talks about their secondary since the start of free agency.
Will Jordan Willis be the prospect that Dallas pulls the trigger on in the first round - by far their safest spot to grab the consensus first or second round DE - and would his traits justify the pick?
Let's find out.
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Jordan Willis plays with a constant motor that allows him to make plays off the edge even when offensive tackles get a good set against him.
If you stopped reading this quote from my full scouting report on DE Jordan Willis at Slant Sports at "constant motor", you aren't unlike many in Cowboys Nation that are tired of seeing defensive line guru Rod Marinelli get little to work with along his actual line.
While part of this is the recently-extended Defensive Coordinator's own doing in trusting his ability to mold every high motor pass rusher, it's also just the beginning for an impressive player like Jordan Willis.
Not dominant in any one area as a true pass rusher, Willis has an outstanding feel for how to use his body in positioning but also his 33.5″ arms to disrupt passes...
Willis may not "wow" with any one trait as a pass rusher, but his flash plays are a thing of beauty, and are often a result of his hustle combined with the technical skill to set up blockers up the field and power back to the football.
Likely a left defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme, Willis tested much better than expected at the NFL Combine athletically, leaving no doubt that he can hold the point of attack as a left end in addition to using his active hands to get into the backfield.
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When Willis is able to get a good first step up the field, his hand work is at its best as a rusher.
As mentioned, there has already been a lot of talk about Jordan Willis' fit as "the guy" to fix the Cowboys pass rush - much of it somewhat pessimistic due to his lack of bend and consistency.
However, I see Willis as a prospect with a higher floor than most late first-round defensive ends, with the ceiling to be just who Dallas needs. Pad level is rarely an issue for Jordan Willis, and when he is able to capture the edge with some initial quickness he shines as a nicely polished rusher that can both extend and snap or pin and drive into the backfield.
On a consistent basis, it is certainly fair to say that Jordan Willis' lack of strength on initial contact with offensive tackles is a bit concerning, as is his bend in not getting steered behind the pocket.
An incredibly aware player, Willis is always looking for ways to fight back to the football and put his stamp on a play. In run defense, Willis will hold the point of attack by extending against his blocker while being able to fluidly turn and chase as well.
Ideally used in the Dallas Cowboys' patented pass rushing rotation to start his career anyway, Jordan Willis can quickly overcome some of these issues by benefiting from situational snaps as both a base LDE or Nickel RDE.
With more than enough flash plays at both spots, the Cowboys can feel comfortable with a player like Willis in using the traits that made him successful against top collegiate competition at the NFL level. Additionally, they already know Willis meets their measurement thresholds - perhaps better than any defensive end in this draft.
Jordan Willis' 4.53 second 40-yard dash time is a full quarter-second faster than the Cowboys' "prototype" defensive end based on past draft history - even exceeding their apex for this Combine drill by over a half second at 4.59.
If watching Jordan Willis run 40 yards in a straight line doesn't sell you on his fit with the silver and blue, he also matches Dallas' apex of 125" in the broad jump with a 1.58 ten-yard split.
Finish your evaluation of Jordan Willis both at the Combine and on film with the fact that his three-cone drill was the best out of any EDGE prospect in Indianapolis by a full 0.6 seconds (a critical measurement that shows a player's change of direction and burst ability), and it's not hard to imagine that the pass rusher we've been waiting for is within Kansas State's Jordan Willis.
Going back to my complete scouting report for Willis, he earned a second-round grade on my live 2017 NFL Draft Board. While there are an abnormal amount of first-round talents in the 2017 Draft, the Cowboys will still likely be staring down a board left with second-round players on the clock with the 28th overall pick.
If this is indeed the case, get ready for Jordan Willis' phone to ring.
Cowboys Draft Target: Nebraska RB Devine Ozigbo
NAME: Devine Ozigbo
POSITION: Running Back
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
JERSEY: No. 22
RECRUITMENT RATING: 3-star
By the end of the season, Ozigbo had rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. He became Nebraska's first 1,000-yard rusher since Ameer Abdullah in 2014. He also ended with an average of 6.98 yards per carry, which put him at fourth in the Big Ten among players with at least 100 carries.
Devine Ozigbo looks the part of a prototypical NFL running back. He has a well muscled/thick frame, with a strong lower half. He is a physical runner capable of playing in a power/gap or zone blocking scheme, but probably projects best as a zone runner. Has the skill set to be a three-down player, with starting potential. Low tread on the tires, only 419 career carries at Nebraska.
Ozigbo runs with good patients on film, "slow to, fast through", which gives his lineman time to secure their blocks. Runs with good power and leg drive, but also has nimble feet with the elite ankle flexion that allows him to make quick lateral cuts to evade defenders. Finisher in short yardage situations. Shows good vision. Waits for defenders to commit to their run fits before hitting the cutback lane. Has surprising burst and elusiveness for a RB his size.
Can be a threat in the passing game both out of the backfield and split out wide. Has shown the ability to run basic route stems when split out wide. Is a solid hands catcher and has shown he can catch passes thrown outside his frame. Quickly goes from receiver to runner and is surprisingly elusive in the open field. His size helps him in pass protection. He has a strong punch and long arms to keep defenders at bay, but also understands how to absorb contact.
One-year wonder? The lack of production at Nebraska might be the biggest concern about Devine Ozigbo as a running back prospect. He had to finally transform his body in 2018 to get on the field, but found success once that happened. Can he maintain that kind of discipline in the NFL? There are also concerns about his long speed.
As a runner, Ozigbo may be only a zone runner in the NFL. Might be scheme dependent. There are times on film where he struggles with his vision, especially when there are multiple offensive lineman pulling. Will also struggle with his reads at time. Better when his reads are clearly defined pre-snap. Takes time to hit top speed and it looks lackadaisical at times. Might take time to adjust to the speed of the game at the next level.
In the passing game he has struggled with passes thrown at a high velocity. Has double caught, bubbled, and dropped a number of high velocity passes. This could be an issue, because he doesn't have the softest hands to begin with. Needs to clean up his technique in pass protection. Will telegraph cut blocks, allowing defenders to easily avoid and pressure the quarterback. Could stand to become a better route runner to be more of a factor when split out wide as a receiver.
Devine Ozigbo is reportedly one of the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors, suggesting the former Cornhuskers running back is already on their radar. He would immediately become the RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott as a rookie and give the Cowboys a formidable one-two punch to wear down opposing defenses. He possesses an intriguing skill set, but isn't the change of pace/got back many have wanted to complement Zeke in the running game.
Ozigbo is a physical runner with a surprisingly nimble feet and flexibility for a RB his size. At Nebraska, he was at his best one running inside zone plays, which just so happens to be a staple in the Cowboys zone blocking scheme. He is also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield and a solid pass protector. Overall, he has a three-down back and someone who could help lighten the load on Zeke's shoulders. He could be a steal for the Cowboys on Day 3, which is where he's projected to be drafted.
Cowboys Mock Draft: 2 Different Simulators, 2 Different Outcomes
The Dallas Cowboys have done an outstanding job of filling holes with some cost-effective free agents so far in free agency, which should allow them two approach the 2019 NFL Draft without any glaring "needs". This should free them up to take the best player available if they so choose, but they still have to keep the future in mind as well. After all, there are several players on a one-year deal or entering the last year of their contracts.
For this 7-round Dallas Cowboys mock draft exercise I decided to use the mock draft simulators for Draft Network and Fanspeak. I was curious to see the difference, if any, between the two. I have to say, even though I used two different draft simulators, I was pretty happy with the way things turned out.
Let's take a look…
|Rd 2 (58)||DE, Christian Miller||DE, Christian Miller|
|Rd 3 (90)||DT, Trysten Hill||S, Amani, Hooker|
|Rd 4 (128)||OT, Bobby Evans||TE, Kahale Warring|
|Rd 4 (136)||S, Marquise Blair||RB, Rodney Anderson|
|Rd 5 (165)||WR, Jalen Hurd||DT, Michael Dogbe|
|Rd 7 (241)||RB, James Williams||WR, Cody Thompson|
Even though I used two different draft simulators, you can clearly see the positions I was targeting for the Dallas Cowboys. I think each one of these players I selected can challenge for a starting job in 2019, but at the worst can be solid depth this year and then become starters in 2020.
Let's dive into this a little deeper so I can tell you why a selected each one of these players…
2nd-round (58th overall)
Christian Miller is the only player I drafted in both mock drafts for the Dallas Cowboys. He is one of my "pet cats" this year and someone who I believe fits the criteria the Cowboys look for in their defensive ends. I believe he could challenge to be a starter as a rookie, but at worst would be a really good rotational piece with starting potential down the road.
3rd-round (90th overall)
Trysten Hill is a penetrating DT who could challenge Maliek Collins to become the starting three-technique as a rookie, but at the very least be a really good rotational piece with starting potential.
Amani Hooker is someone who I believe could start next to Xavier Woods as a rookie, even after the Dallas Cowboys added George Iloka to the mix.
4th-round (128th overall)
Bobby Evans has the ability to play the left or right tackle position in the NFL and could immediately challenge La'el Collins at RT. At worst, he would be Collins' replacement in 2020.
Sitting behind Jason Witten and learning for a season would be ideal for Kahale Warring, because he does have the potential to become the Dallas Cowboys TE1 in 2020 despite his lack of college production.
4th-round (136th overall)
Marquise Blair is an underrated safety in the 2019 draft class and someone who would also pair nicely with Xavier Woods. He played mostly strong safety at Utah, but as the ability to be a factor in coverage as well.
Rodney Anderson would immediately step in and become Ezekiel Elliott's backup as a rookie. He is an upgrade over Rod Smith and has starting potential if he can stay healthy.
5th-round (165th overall)
Despite signing Randall Cobb, the Dallas Cowboys could use a slot receiver for the future. I personally really like Jalen Hurd as a "big slot". He gives the Cowboys some size at the WR position and a big target for Dak Prescott to throw to in the slot.
Michael Dogbe is another potential three-technique with starting potential for the Cowboys. He'd likely be a rotational player as a rookie, but could take over for Maliek Collins in 2020.
7th-round (254th overall)
James Williams would bring an intriguing skill set to the Dallas Cowboys as Zeke's backup running back. He is arguably the best receiving RB in the entire draft out of the backfield and when split out wide like a WR.
Cody Thompson reminds me of LA Rams WR Cooper Kupp and would play a similar role with the Cowboys. He needs to fine-tune his route running, but I think he can become their future slot receiver.
Cowboys Draft: Evaluating the Need for a Tight End
Tight end has become a very intriguing position in Dallas. For the first time in 15 years, the Cowboys went through a season without Jason Witten lining up with the offense in 2018. Instead, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz took over and didn't contribute much to a struggling offense. They both had a few flashes here and there, but TE production wasn't really special for the Cowboys last season. Now, Witten is back from retirement and he'll work with the younger guys to upgrade the offense.
However, tight end still feels like a team need at this point. Jason Witten will be 37 years old when the season begins. His speed was a problem during the last years of his career and that problem will likely show on the field now that he's back. The Cowboys made a good decision bringing him back, but he's clearly not a long-term answer.
It seems like Witten will get the starts, but don't expect Blake Jarwin to have no say on who's the most important TE on the team. Jarwin didn't have the best stats in 2018 but, how could he? There were only three games last season in which he was targeted more than three times. In those games, he had 229 yards, including a three touchdown performance versus the New York Giants (when he was targeted eight times).
With Kellen Moore taking over as the offensive coordinator, tight ends might be more involved on the Cowboys offense than in previous years. If that's the case, the Cowboys will have Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz on the roster. All three of these guys will be able to contribute. Schultz is the one who's still unproven, but he did a decent job as a rookie both as a blocker and as a receiver on the rare occasions a ball was thrown his way.
We talk about drafting a tight end for the future when the Cowboys might see their future in Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. These two along with Jason Witten are virtual locks to make the roster. The Cowboys would need to carry four tight ends for it to make sense to draft one in the first place.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position of need this offseason, giving them flexibility to take a "best player available" in April. I truly won't be surprised if the front office doesn't prioritize the need for a young TE. If they do, let's hope they get a very good one.
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