Tackling: Checks every box. Can make tackles while engaged with contact, though I wish he played with better hip sink and a wider base to maintain his balance through tackle at times. High-quality tackler coming downhill into space with the ability to break down and open his radius in the backfield. Great in space with better body control and reactive athleticism than players of his density often have.
Range: Young man's got rocket boosters in his heels. Insane first step to eat up angles and beat blockers to the spot to deny backs' paths and force runners into help defenders. Gets on his horse quickly for boundary plays and makes nuts tackles against screens, bubbles, and other out-breakers in the quick game.
Block Deconstruction: Someone's gotta teach him what the things at the end of his wrists are. Has good flashes in terms of arriving to contact with velocity and shucking powerful opponents with violent stack/sheds and punches, but he closes space too willingly and gives up his chest all the time, allowing his base to be broken and preventing him from making plays through blocks.
Toughness: Loves him a little contact. Regularly the aggressor in tight areas and will look to impose his physical will on opponents throughout the game. Punishing blows to backs in tight areas and lets opponents know it when he's won a rep. Can hold up against pressure in the trees and retain his gap, though is reckless with his base.
Mental Processing: Couldn't tell you what he's doing half the time. Loves first flashes of color and will dive headfirst into backfield mesh points without a plan; rushes into the first gap that opens without considering how tough of an angle he'll be afforded; ineffective in zone spacing. Inexperienced and doesn't know when he's being confounded by misdirection.
Decision-Making: Is extremely risk-prone and regularly leaves his entire defense out to dry. Will attack the first thing he sees and gets tunnel vision when opponents climb toward him or pullers circle into his radius. Will step into the line immediately at the snap, limiting his range and angles and taking himself out of plays.
Short Area Quickness: Springy fellow for 240+ pounds and has the ability to dart into second gaps and mirror backfield action when he gives himself enough space to do so. Fluidity is quality, but he'll false steps himself into bad angles and gains too much depth in his zone drops, putting himself in a bad spot for recovery.
Man Cover Ability: High ceiling here with some exciting reps. Has matching ability against tight ends as a result of his size, fluidity, and willingness to collision routes through (and beyond) the contact window. Limited in his reps here, and does have some concerns with taking too steep of angles into boundary routes when tasked with backs.
Zone Cover Ability: Has a great production profile here. Strong short zone defender with a large range of influence given his first-step explosiveness, straight-line speed, in-space tackling ability, and willingness to play aggressively into contact. Good vision to common quick game ideas, but loses awareness of routes developing behind him and will drop randomly into space without adjusting and overlapping his zones relative to backfield action.
Round Grade: Mid 3
Best Trait: Range
Worst Trait: Decision-Making
Player Comparison: DeMeco Ryans
Summary: Willie Gay projects as a developmental starter with an interesting skill set at the NFL level. Gay's combination of density, range, hitting power, and toughness are NFL caliber, and the flashes of sideline influence on his film are really exciting. Gay's inexperience -- largely authored by himself, as his suspensions kept him off the field -- prevent him from having a natural process for deciphering plays, and his instincts often lie to him. If your defensive coaching staff is able to normalize Gay's reads and make him a more predictable fill player, then you have a starting MIKE or WILL in either even or odd fronts, but you'll have to live with up-and-down play early. Gay should be judged off of his Year 2 play, or at least given a full year of starting before he arrives at expectation.