The San Francisco 49ers will look to the NFL Draft for help to address an anemic pass rush. One of the better targets could be Kansas State edge rusher Jordan Willis, likely a Round 2 target.
The San Francisco 49ers hold the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
In an ideal world, Texas A&M EDGE Myles Garrett slips past the Cleveland Browns at No. 1 overall and into the Niners’ collective lap.
But don’t bank on it happening. Garrett is the best player in this year’s draft class.
San Francisco 49ers
Needing more than just a little bit of help in the pass rush, San Francisco can afford to wait until its next pick, No. 34 overall, to make an impact selection.
And he should be Kansas State edge rusher Jordan Willis.
Willis is likely a day-two pick. While CBS Sports currently ranks him as the 64th overall prospect (possibly taken in Round 3), Willis’ draft stock has notably risen in recent weeks enough to suggest the Niners may target him as early as Round 2.
Not long ago, I put together a 49ers mock with Willis going to San Francisco in Round 3 at No. 66 overall.
That wouldn’t be bad, especially if Willis slips. But let’s not bank on it just yet.
So why would the Niners look at the Kansas State product here?
Round 1 to Address 49ers Secondary
With Garrett not likely to fall to San Francisco, it wouldn’t be a shock at all to see general manager John Lynch using the team’s first pick in the draft to make a serious upgrade to the secondary.
Ohio State’s Malik Hooker is my favorite pick here, and he’d be the perfect Cover 3 scheme fit in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s system. This move would push current free safety Eric Reid into a strong safety position and keep defensive back Jimmie Ward at cornerback.
Another plausible option is to grab fellow Ohio State defensive back Marshon Lattimore, although I’m not sure he’s quite worth the second overall pick.
Or the Niners could go with someone like Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster at No. 2. That wouldn’t be a surprise either.
Regardless, San Francisco can afford to take advantage of a deep EDGE class in this year’s draft and push back the pressing pass-rush need into the second day.
Here’s where Willis comes into play.
Addressing the Need
It’s safe to say the 49ers pass rush is bad entering this offseason.
The team’s best pure pass-rusher, linebacker/defensive end Aaron Lynch, registered a mere 1.5 sacks last season. As a LEO, his chances to make a serious impact at this point in his development are slim.
Willis shouldn’t have any trouble adjusting to a 4-3 base scheme, which could likely mean he’s an upgrade over Lynch or any other player the Niners can currently peg there.
This spot is typically reserved for the team’s best pass-rusher. And right now, the 49ers don’t exactly have one.
Jordan Willis Scouting Reports
If there’s one knock on Willis, it’s his inability to get creative in his pass-rushing moves.
Just take a look at NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein’s scouting report:
"Straight-liner mover. Very deliberate as a pass rusher. Shows rush moves early and rarely deviates from original track. One-speed rusher lacking dynamic qualities to turn corner for tight loops. Could get flattened in the rush arc due to hip tightness. Timing of hands need work as he tends to shoot prematurely, opening himself up to counter moves. Rarely makes tackles redirect inside with sharp counters. Tackles often come at angles. Might need to move to outside linebacker on next level."
|*2013||Kansas State||Big 12||FR||DE||1||1||0||1||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*2014||Kansas State||Big 12||SO||DE||11||11||15||26||7.0||4.5||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|*2015||Kansas State||Big 12||JR||DE||13||28||6||34||14.0||8.5||0||0||0||3||1||3|
|2016||Kansas State||Big 12||SR||DE||13||34||18||52||17.5||11.5||0||0||0||3||1||3|
These shortcomings didn’t prevent Willis from making a serious impact at Kansas State, especially his senior year.
Still, the lack of pass-rushing moves could mean the 6-foot-4 prospect is on the same trajectory as former 49ers draft bust, linebacker Corey Lemonier, who was seemingly always pushed to the rear of the pocket.
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Regardless, the Niners could do much worse than selecting Willis. Even in Round 2, if we believe reports his draft stock is on the rise.
And if he falls into Round 3, it’s all the better.
So keep an eye on Willis and whether or not San Francisco has legitimate interest. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to have another Willis back on the 49ers roster.