Thu, 02 Apr 2020

This year's NFL Combine workouts begin Thursday and conclude March 1 in Indianapolis. And now is the perfect time to reflect on players who joined the Jets as unrestricted free agents last year.

Specifically, we turn to DL Jordan Willis and how he performed in the 2017 Combine.

The Jets put a strong and deep defensive line on the field last season. The depth went from the starting group of Steve McLendon, Henry Anderson and first-round rookie Quinnen Williams through second-tier performers Kyle Phillips, Folorunso Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd, all the way to Willis.

Jets fans didn't hear a lot about Willis. After arriving on waivers from Cincinnati on Sept. 11, he played in nine games and 162 defensive snaps. On those snaps he recorded 3.0 tackles for loss and one third-down sack. Not huge numbers but he did flash his athleticism when he played.

And that shouldn't be surprising, since Willis also showed that quality at his combine.

"I thought I was going to do solid at the combine," Willis said this week. "I've been working with a trainer since my sophomore year in high school. We did normal combine training, stuff like that. I felt like my athleticism was my strong suit. If I wanted to increase my stock, I felt like I had to perform well at the Senior Bowl and at the combine to give teams the opportunity to see that I had some athleticism and was someone they could draft and help develop."

Willis did that and then some. His 4.53-second 40 was second among all defensive linemen that year, his 39.0" vertical leap was also second among D-linemen, his 4.28-second time in the 20-yard shuttle was tied for third, and his 6.85 in the 3-cone drill was tops among DL and tied for 15th among all defensive players that year.

We can extend the window on those performances back to 2006. In the last 14 combines, Willis' 40 was tied for sixth-fastest among all D-linemen, his VL was tied for 11th, his short shuttle was tied for 16th and his 3-cone was ninth.

"I'm not going to say I had a favorite drill per se," he said, "but when I found out what time I ran in the 40, it was just exciting. My time at the combine was pretty similar to what I ran it in before. Me and my trainer, we knew that if I woke up and felt good that day, I could be in that range."

Some Indy workout watchers noted Willis' showing - he was "one of the stars of the combine," according to one, and "one of the biggest winners," said another. That plus a good senior season at Kansas State and a good Senior Bowl week helped him become the Bengals' third-round pick (73rd overall) in the '17 draft.

Willis had two sacks in his two Cincy years, and with a lot of DL competition and a new regime led in by head coach Zac Taylor last season, he became expendable. But the Jets added him to their mix and he fit in.

One more metric perhaps reveals a top trait among the Jets' big men. The 20-yard shuttle measures short-area quickness, agility, flexibility and change-of-direction speed. How well does the participant sink his hips, keep a low center of gravity and move laterally? It's an ideal drill for D-linemen, and again perhaps not surprisingly, three Jets are among the 20 fastest short-shuttle D-linemen over the past five combines: Anderson (4.19, tied for fourth), Bronson Kaufusi (4.25, tied for 11th) and Willis (4.28, tied for 16th).

There is no guarantee that Willis will stick around for another season with the Green & White. But if he sticks around, his athleticism that was accentuated in the 2017 combine will be one reason why.

And Willis offered some late advice for players about to participate in the 2020 workouts:

"I think the best thing would be just relax and be yourself, make sure to get good rest. When they get there, everything's going to come at them at 100 miles per hour, they'll meet with all the different GMs and scouts, there's the early morning drug test. So make sure you get tons of rest, then eat and hydrate. And relax."

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