Gerald Willis goes undrafted, which was not such a big surprise

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If all you knew about former Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Gerald Willis was what he did on the field in 2018, you might have thought he should be a first-round draft pick. If you knew the whole story, you weren’t surprised that he went undrafted.

Mel Kiper of ESPN may not have known the whole story of Willis’s college career, because Kiper spent much of the third day of the draft expressing surprise that Willis hadn’t been selected yet.

Now Willis has his NFL team, the Ravens, who signed him as an undrafted free agent on Saturday evening.

Kiper said before the draft that Willis would be off the board by the end of Round 3 “at the latest,” and on Saturday he said repeatedly that he was surprised Willis wasn’t going in Round 4, Round 5, Round 6 or Round 7. Based solely on 2018, it’s easy to see why Kiper felt that way: Willis was chosen as the Hurricanes’ MVP, and he was named on multiple All-American teams.

But NFL teams look at a lot more than that. For starters, they look at the fact that Willis began his career as a five-star recruit at Florida, played for the Gators as a true freshman in 2014, and then got kicked off the team for what was described as “a string of off- and on-field incidents.” We don’t know the nature of all of those incidents (two of them included a fight with teammate Skyler Mornhinweg and a cheap shot at Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston) but suffice to say football powers like Florida don’t kick five-star recruits off the team unless those incidents are serious.

Willis then sat out 2015 and transferred to Miami. He got on the field as a backup in 2016, but then didn’t play in 2017 for what he described as “a lot of personal issues.”

His excellent 2018 season was Willis’s only year as a starter, and even that year came with some potential red flags in the form of injuries that cut his season short and prevented him from working out at the Combine. It also doesn’t help that he’s better against the run than he is as a pass rusher, and teams are increasingly prioritizing interior pass rushers.

So Willis was a one-year starter, was kicked off his first college team, missed a full season on his second college team with personal issues, missed time with injuries in his only season as a starter, and didn’t work out at the Combine because of injuries. The story should probably be less that it’s a surprise Willis went undrafted than that it’s a surprise Kiper thought Willis would be drafted in the first three rounds.

10 responses to “Gerald Willis goes undrafted, which was not such a big surprise

  1. A lot of these guys need to start realizing that not one player is bigger than the team, not one player is bigger than the NFL. The game will go on with out them and forget they even existed. At the end of the day, football might be the only thing they are even good at, hard to start a career doing something else when all you know is football

  2. He’s definitely lit, but the dude can play. Someone should have taken a flyer on him in the 5th or 6th round. Ravens got a player as long as they can put structure around him. I mean it’s not like he was ever in trouble for woman beating or child abuse. Just one of these guys that is from real life that some NFL fans can’t believe is reality out here for so many people.

  3. Nice steal by an organization that knows how to manage troubled players and turn them into superstars. Unlike the Steelers, who draft superstars and turn them into troubled players. Just thinking about Bell and Brown, Bryant, and, of course, little Ben.

  4. interesting Redskins didn’t give him a shot, given that Landon Collins is his brother. But Baltimore and DC are kinda down the road. Wonder if DC asked LC about bringing his brother in.

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