NAME: Gerald Willis
POSITION: Defensive Tackle
CLASS: RS Senior
JERSEY: No. 9
RECRUITMENT RATING: 4-star
WT: 280 lbs
Get-off/Burst – Quality first step to consistently threaten off the ball. Needs to consistently fire out rather than pop up with his initial movement. Carries over his burst into quickness up the field. Explosiveness often causes offensive linemen to overextend in an attempt to slow his progress. When he fires out low, can create knock-back due to combination of burst and power.
Leverage – Big area of concern for Willis. Loses leverage too often by popping straight up out of his stance. Forced to work over the top of blockers in order to win, which can cause him to lose gap control and widen his lane. Doesn’t fire into opponents with ideal extension and knee bend, causing him to be displaced or at least bottled up at the point of attack. Everything needs to be lower when he engages blockers. Tries to spin out of blocks as a last resort at times and can really be manhandled then. Spends too much time on the ground or displaced due to lack of leverage.
Hand Usage – If only it were more consistent. Has shown the raw power to toss blockers, but too often doesn’t utilize the leverage and arm extension to maximize his hands. Loves to work over the top of blockers to get into the backfield, but rarely stacks and sheds while controlling the line of scrimmage. In flashes, uses his hands well as a pass rusher to work to the edge of his opponent. When he does get his hands inside, can control blockers 1v1 and re-set LOS, but far too often forgets he has hands as a defender.
Rush Plan/Counters – Loves the swim move and is quick and deadly with it. May love it too much, as more savvy opponents know it is coming early and often. Big and strong enough to push through the edge of weaker interior linemen. Counters are few and far between, will get stuck on blocks and fail to work off in a timely fashion. Loses control of 1v1 exchanges without a consistent plan of attack. Would love to see him convert more speed to power with his first step and natural strength.
Mental Processing/Block Recognition – Vast majority of the time he’s attacking a gap off the snap with very little block recognition required. Miami’s defense is designed to play fast up front and limit thinking, asking Willis to penetrate and disrupt which he does well. This has left his processing of blocks a bit slower than you’d like, which will require a learning curve in the NFL.
Range – Good straight line speed to chase plays down from the backside. Relentless in his pursuit and can close down angles in the backfield faster than you think. 18 tackles-for-loss this season, largely due to his ability to move in space and finish run-and-chase plays better than most defensive tackles. Quick on his feet and seems to change direction and vary speeds with ease.
Bend/Flexibility – Wish he showed better flexibility in his knees and hips when engaging blockers the line of scrimmage. Could benefit a ton by dropping his pads and working under more contact to keep himself cleaner. Enough ankle flexibility to turn to the pocket from the outside edge of the guard, something not every defensive tackle can do.
Tackling – Didn’t see many missed tackles on tape. Works incredibly hard to get in on stops and won’t hesitate to lend a helping hand in bringing down a runner. Strong enough to snag runners outside his frame and whip them to the ground.
Competitive Toughness – Physicality won’t be an issue at all. Plays with a nasty edge, but can sometimes lose control as well. Can get frustrated and get even sloppier with technique. Will need a strong support system to help keep his emotions in check.
Athleticism/Size – Listed size isn’t even close to where I project him. Willis is probably between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 and weighs at least three bills. He’s a massive dude with pretty impressive movement skills for his size. I don’t think the 40 will be an issue, but agilities and jumps will be interesting to watch. I do think NFL teams will want him to lose some weight around his mid-section, and his current body mold could generate criticism during the pre-draft process. Balance may be improved by redistributing some mass.
BEST TRAIT – Burst/Quickness
WORST TRAIT – Leverage
RED FLAGS – Issues with coaches and teammates as a freshman at Florida led to his transfer. Suspended for 2016 season opener for violation of team rules. Took a leave of absence from the Miami program in 2017, did not play. Described as a “new man” by himself, teammates and coaches after the year off. Partially tore his MCL in 2016, getting surgery after the season.
SUMMARY – Character concerns marred Willis’ growth as a player for years, until a surprising year off from playing in 2017 altered his path dramatically. Now, coaches and teammates rave about the changed man he’s become, heralding his leadership and work ethic on and off the field. It shows on tape, where Willis was one of the most productive defensive linemen in the country and one of the most relentless.
That’s huge for Willis’ evaluation, but on-the-field concerns still exist. Watching in flashes this year, I was high on what he brought to the table, and there is no doubt his upside is exciting to watch. But Willis also abandons technique too often and gets sloppy with his pad level, winning on natural tools more than sharp refinement. If he lands with a great defensive line coach on a solid unit, the results could be deadly for the opposition. There’s risk involved with Willis, but his Combine performance should help tell us just how high the ceiling is if he gets the development he needs at the next level.
Competitive Toughness –Motor runs hot on penetration reps and shows an ability to pinball off contact effectively when he’s dialed in. Lapses are too common and too egregious, however. Will get kicked out of the club by double teams and drive blocks against powerful iOL.
Two Gap Ability –Will not successfully hold the point of attack against drive blocks and lacks the length needed to stack and shed when ball is carried off his hip pocket. Lacks discipline to stay low at the LOS and will get caught peeking for the football, giving up even more of his leverage.
Gap Penetration Skills –Possesses the functional strength to play through down blocks and lateral contact when he’s fully committed to driving into the backfield and create havoc. Really like how well he can collect himself heels deep and proceed to mirror the ball carrier for disruptive TFLs.
Tackling –Will swallow you whole if he’s able to square you up at the LOS. Absorbs ball carriers with a head of steam with little issue thanks to thick lower half. Lack of tackle radius is masked by short area movement skills and ability to slide and mirror in the phone booth.
Flexibility –Does flash corners with speed and momentum, capable of working his hips through tight spaces when he’s got forward push at the snap. Plays too tall at the point of attack and gets uprooted and pushed around by technically refined blockers.
Pass Rush Counters –Has successfully implemented sweep, swim, rip/club and push/pull. Adding in speed to power conversion, he’s got a plethora of maneuvers at his disposal. Can get paralyzed by his options sometimes, however. Would like to see a little more flexibility in what counter he attacks with.
First Step Quickness –When he wants to, he can really get after it off the snap. Successful releases often result in hip-to-hip results before blockers are even able to get out of the starting blocks. Hand usage prior to first contact further enables penetration reps.
Feet/Change Of Direction –Shouldn’t be as nimble as he is, definitely meets the requirements for “dancing bear” classification. Nimble, light footed and does well in redirection efforts to parlay his momentum into new trajectory, isn’t robbed by his momentum when he’s forced to adjust on the fly.
Versatility –Should be considered only for a 3T role in the NFL. Willis won’t hold up against double teams and keeping him out of the A-gaps will help protect him from getting washed out. Three down role is possible in an aggressive, penetration style defensive system.
BEST TRAIT – Gap Penetration
WORST TRAIT – Length
BEST FILM – LSU (2018)
WORST FILM – Boston College (2018)
RED FLAGS –Sat out 2017 for personal reasons. 2015 transfer.
Gerald Willis has a lot of enticing flashes at the point of attack as a dominating penetration presence. Willis understands how to slip blocks and use his hands to uncover in gaps. That said, length is a problem and so is consistency. Willis concedes his chest far too often and will subsequently get manhandled at the point of attack. There’s off the field flags as well, Willis should be considered a high ceiling/low floor prospect in the 2019 Draft.
A highly-touted recruit, Willis originally committed to the University of Florida but multiple suspensions lead to his dismissal and transfer to Miami. A change of scenery did not initially prove helpful for Willis as he faced disciplinary issues at Miami and even took a leave of absence from the team.
All indications are that Willis is ready to be an impact defender for the Hurricanes in 2018, something it desperately needs given the loss of defensive tackles RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton to the NFL.
While Willis’ impact so far has been minimal, there’s no mistaking his talent when on the field. A blend of power and athletic ability, Willis has active hands and the ability to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Slated to be Miami’s three-technique, he has the skill set to thrive in a penetrating role with a wide open window to play the vast majority of the defensive snaps.
If Willis can remain focused on football, he is capable of a monster season. Head coach Mark Richt has raved about his practice efforts on the scout team which is a strong indication of where Willis’ head is at. He may not be a household name, but Willis has immense upside if everything comes together.