In the span of a season, Gerald Willis III blossomed from practice squad star to quarterback menace. In 2018, the boy from Louisiana turned into the man of the 305 area code. Willis finished second in the ACC in tackles-for-loss with 18. In his senior season, the DT added four sacks to go along with 59 tackles. Those stats helped Willis win the team MVP, and helped to propel him on the road to the NFL.
However, the start of the 2019 draft season has been a bumpy one for the outstanding defensive tackle. A hand injury forced Willis to miss the Pinstripe Bowl. Then, a day before he was supposed to fly to Alabama for the Senior Bowl, Willis posted a message on Twitter revealing that he would be forced to miss the premier collegiate all-star game with another injury. While two no-shows won’t torpedo his stock as a prospect, Willis is still one of many talented defensive interiors in this class. Anything he can do to separate himself from the pack would be a positive.
Separating yourself from your peers is the name of the game at this point in the draft process. Willis has done a great job of that by penetrating through would-be blockers to cause havoc in the backfield. It’s not fa into watching Willis’ 2018 film that you see a player — who lined up as a three, one and even zero technique defensive tackle — possess the capability to disrupt offensive cohesion upon the snap of the ball.
Here’s what we know of Gerald Willis III from his time as a Hurricane.
LSU vs Miami (2018)
Miami vs Boston College (2018)
FSU vs Miami (2018)
- Works his hands well when engaged, tries to seperate by batting down the hands and counter with a swim move.
- Does a good job of working the shoulder of the guard.
- Able to get his hand up in the air against the BC QB to deflect the ball. Doesn’t make use of his hands in the passing lane too frequently.
- Against UNC, he used his left hand to create space from the linemen, making the tackle with his right.
- His timing off the snap is uncanny. Able to get under the guard, he breezes by a pulling guard against FSU to pick up a TFL.
- Read options by opponents gave WIllis way too much time to shed the blocker and make the tackle in the backfield. Happened against FSU and Duke last season.
- Chases the play behind the line of scrimmage. Takes good pursuit angles.
- When he gets initial penetration, he’s able dip into his bag of moves to continue his path to the QB. Against LSU, he hit the blocker with a rip and churned his legs forward to disrupt the pocket.
- Overwhelmed LSU’s offensive line with speed getting into the backfield.
- Able to get low to make the tackle on a the ball carrier. Wraps up with two hands, but usually will tackle with just one.
- On short-yardage against LSU, able to get lower than the guard, swims over him, but is unable to make the square up tackle on the running back in the backfield. The result was a first down, but just barely.
- Willis finds the ball due to a good acceleration off the snap. Usually just mauls the ball carrier down to the ground.
- Against LSU late in the first half, able to get off the snap, swiping down the hands of the offensive linemen with minimal resistance.
- Gets blocked low close to the goalline, but is able to get his hands up and bat down the pass in the third quarter.
- Displays decent lateral ability. Fought hard in the fourth quarter against LSU, was working into the backfield to his right, able to shake of the blocker and retreat towards his left to get the initial hit on the running back. Good at replacing the blocker and sliding/slicing along the line of scrimmage towards the play. Has great vision and instincts as a defender.
- Has an adequate shimmy to shake the opposition.
- Able to beat Pitt tackle with a swim move and close in on the QB for the sack. Incredible speed to get the QB who was in shotgun.
- Struggled against BC. Was unable to get any consistent pressure. For context, the Eagles kept a max protection look, as well as using some trick plays to get the defense moving one direction and then going in the other. Willis was tasked with shadowing the QB this game.
- Double-teamed by the Eagles’ guard and center on each run play, negating any impact from the DT.
- Got walked off the line of scrimmage by the guard on run play. Brings into question his efforts on running downs compared to passing.
- One of many Canes to allow AJ Dillon to pick up a first down a play that should have been a loss of yard. G’s backside pursuit was lackadaisical, assuming teammates would wrap up the ball carrier.
- Not great at the spin move. Anytime a lineman gets Willis turned around, the play might as well be over. G attempts to free himself from an engaged blocker by spinning, mostly resulting in a negated pass rush.
Those are the coles notes on Gerald Willis III. There wasn’t a Hurricane with a more explosive first step on defense than No. 9. Using that speed and jump on the offense, Willis was able to penetrate into an opponent’s backfield, able to disrupt runs or passes alike. Using a blend of the swim, rip, chop and stiff arm, Willis entered the backfield with malicious intent on each occasion. The chief concern in the case of Willis surrounds his play against the run. Penetration is great, but what happens when you’re met with a double-team consistently? Most of Miami’s opponents dialed up a double team or two to negate G’s impact. It explained why Willis was held to quiet outings against BC and Virginia.
The game against BC, specifically, was an anomaly from what Hurricane fans expected from Willis throughout the season.
This should not deflect from the excellent season that Willis produced in ‘18. Willis has the tools, pedigree and, most importantly, the drive to be a productive contributor in the NFL in 2019. We wouldn’t be surprised if Willis is one of the few Canes in contention to hear their name called first in a few weeks.
What the Experts are Saying
Willis is tough to slow down due to his first step and gap speed, but he is a tad straight-linish and needs to contain his aggressive approach to play smarter. His interviews will be paramount due to his checkered past. Overall, Willis affects the backfield action with his initial quickness and energy, but he is an inconsistent run defender due to his undisciplined approach, projecting as an NFL three-technique who needs to prove he is more than just a flash player
Round Projection: 4th round
Dane Brugler — The Athletic
Gerald Willis III’s time away from football in 2017 helped him become a better player, which showed in 2018 as he took over games for the Hurricanes. As a 3-technique prospect, he’s intriguing as a middle-round prospect who could hit and become a starter or at least contribute as a rotational pass-rusher.
Round Projection: 3rd or 4th round
Matt Miller — Bleacher Report
Willis earned an 88.3 run-defense grade in 2018, ranking tied for 12th in the 2019 draft class.
Pro Football Focus
Feast or famine 3-technique whose game is characterized by splashy wins and glaring losses from snap to snap. Willis is a one-gapper who has enough initial quickness and footwork to find success in the backfield, but poor pad level gets him bludgeoned by double teams too frequently. He’s an active rusher with change of direction to harass the pocket which could bolster his draft stock and make him a rotational backup with eventual starter potential if he plays with a more functional pad level.
Round Projection: 3rd or 4th round
Lance Zierlein — NFL.com
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