The Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL are having to make do with the options they have given the current state of things in the world. Though it’s a small thing, the disruption of the NFL’s pre-draft process has effected 300 or more players hoping to hear their name called on draft weekend. Teams are still meeting with players virtually, but the limited contact time will undoubtedly have consequences in a couple of weeks. As the team gears up toward the draft, which will begin on April 23rd, more names will start to trickle out of The Star in Frisco as the Cowboys work to finalize their draft board.
One name you can add to the list of players the Cowboys has met with is Michigan State Defensive Lineman Kenny Willekes. In an interview with Sky Sports, Willekes disclosed teams that have been in contact with him. In addition to the Cowboys, he’s talked with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, and San Francisco 49ers as well.
At 6-4 260 pounds, per College Football Reference, Willekes profiles as an edge rusher who could play both as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end.
Over the final three seasons of his career at Michigan State, Willekes played in 39 games, recording 23.5 sacks, and 49 tackles for loss. That’s excellent production. In 2018, he named a Second Team All-American and, in 2019, earned Big 10 All-Conference second-team honors despite better production. In both his junior and senior season, he was named the team MVP and was a captain for his final season with Michigan State.
Not athletic, below-average athleticism for edge rusher” “Physical tools don’t jump off the page” “Isn’t a good athlete” “Has pedestrian physical gifts” Shhhh Just watch… https://t.co/LpvLpzBu9C
His combination of strength and athleticism makes him a very intriguing option after the first round. With 32 reps on the bench press, Willekes tested in the 88th percentile. His broad jump of 119 inches put him in the 84 percentile. Per Mockdraftable, his athletic profile compares favorably to 2019 first-round selection Ed Oliver and 2016 edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
Under Mike Nolan, the Dallas Cowboys hope to deploy multiple fronts along the defensive line, and Kenny Willekes is a player that can help with that. He ranks 107th on The Draft Network’s Player Rankings and is the 18th best edge rusher per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler.
Here’s what Dane had to say:
SUMMARY: A three-year starter at Michigan State, Willekes played primarily as the field defensive end in head coach Mark Dantonio’s 4-3 base scheme. Lightly recruited out of a small high school, he walked on and turned himself into one of the most accomplished players in Spartans’ history, passing Julian Peterson for the school-record in career tackles for loss (also ranks third all-time in sacks). Competing with a touch of insanity, Willekes attack blocks with natural body lean and powerful hands to create movement and open pass rush lanes. Although he is the type of player you shouldn’t bet against, his average-at-best athletic traits create concern for his role and transition at the next level. Overall, Willekes lacks the anchor and length to be a consistent edge-setter vs. NFL offensive tackles, but his resilient mentality and competitive motor translate to production, which should land him in a defensive line rotation.
All Spring, the Dallas Cowboys have been linked to edge rushers as they look to prioritize their pass rush. Head Coach Mike McCarthy wants to have six players that can get after the passer. Similarly to players like Zack Baun and K’Lavon Chaisson, Kenny Willekes is a versatile edge rusher who could be deployed in both odd and even man fronts.
Kenny Willekes is a player that the Cowboys could target in the third round or later. His experience, athleticism, and strength are excellent foundations that the team could build upon once they get him on the practice field.