You’ve probably seen Michigan State senior defensive end Kenny Willekes listed pretty high in most mock drafts.
And what’s not to like? He was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2018, then returned for a final season that included some pretty impressive numbers: 78 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hurries, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
But with numbers like that come more scrutiny. The common theme from draft analysts is that Willekes lacks ideal length, speed and athleticism.
“He’s a good, hard-nosed football player, but he lacks any particular ‘wow’ trait that’s generally required for a player to be pegged as a first-rounder.”
Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes is easily one of the best edge rushers in this years draft.
Strong, quick off the snap, plays the run well, fantastic swim move.
228 tackles, 49 tackles for loss, 23 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumbles recovered. pic.twitter.com/Xb02ktIp04
— Shane Carter (@ShaneCarterTx) January 7, 2020
Willekes (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) broke his leg in last year’s bowl loss to Oregon. Media reports say he was leaning toward entering the 2019 draft prior to the injury but decided to return after receiving lower-than-expected pre-draft grades.
He saved his best for his final game for Michigan State. Willekes tallied 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks and came up with a crucial forced fumble in the Spartans’ bowl game win against Wake Forest. Ahead by 6 points, Willekes sacked Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman late in the fourth quarter, forcing the fumble. (Newman, who recently announced that he’s entering the transfer portal, was injured on the play and didn’t return.)
So there’s still a lot to like about Willekes.
“… Willekes is relentless and plays low to the ground to bully blockers off their spot.”