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2019 New Orleans Saints draft prospects: Gerald Willis III

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Would the Saints overlook red flags to take a talented prospect from a historically strong program?

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints defensive tackles were instrumental in the success that their defense had a year ago. The team finished second against the run, and allowed just 3.6 yards per carry to opposing backs. New Orleans defensive tackles were also responsible for 15.5 sacks, and a number of disruptions to opposing offenses during the year. Sheldon Rankins played at an All-Pro level much of the year, while David Onyemata developed into a solid interior presence. Tyeler Davison and Taylor Stallworth combined to give the Saints one of the deepest defensive tackle rotations in the league. Rankins suffered an Achilles injury during the playoffs though, and may not return to action until at least midseason. Onyemata may face a league suspension to begin the year due to an offseason arrest, and the Saints lost Davison to rival Atlanta in free agency. New Orleans signed talented tackles Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards Jr. in free agency, but are expected to add another interior defender through the draft. In today's draft profile, we take a look at one possibility from a college program that has littered the NFL with talented defensive players over the last three decades.

Gerald Willis III, DT (Miami Fla.)

6'2 302

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

A native of New Orleans, Willis was rated the nation's 3rd rated defensive tackle when coming out of Edna Karr High School in Louisiana. He chose the University of Florida, but left the program after a short time due to maturity and disciplinary issues. He would wind up in Coral Gables to attend the University of Miami. He had 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as a reserve in 2016, but would have to take a leave of absence from the team in 2017 to deal with personal issues. Willis remained close to the program during that time though, and returned to the Hurricanes in 2018 with renewed fury on the field. Willis was second in the A.C.C. last season with 18 tackles for loss among his 59 total stops, adding 4 sacks, 2 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery on his way to 2nd team A.P. All-American honors.

Willis did not participate in on-field drills at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but was interviewed by several teams. The results of those interviews could go a long way in determining where the talented defensive tackle gets selected in the draft, perhaps even if he is drafted at all.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There is little denying the potential that Gerald Willis has on the field. He is a prototypical 3-technique tackle, with disruptive pass rushing skills. He has an explosive first step at the snap, keeps good upper body movement while maintaining solid footwork, and possesses an extremely effective spin move. Willis can blow past guards or centers with his initial quickness, as well as knifing between double teams into the backfield. He shows explosive burst into the offensive backfield and has good lateral pursuit along the line of scrimmage.

Willis has nice size and strength, but must be more physical at the point of attack. He often gets pushed around by double teams if he doesn't beat them with his initial quickness. Willis needs to improve his technique to be more consistently effective against the run game. His pad level is often too high, allowing blockers to gain a leverage advantage over him for control. His production has been extremely inconsistent when he has been on the field, often a feast or famine in terms of results during the course of a game.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Gerald Willis III has the talent worthy of a second round pick, but will likely not be selected until the third day of the draft, if at all, due to a number of concerning red flags in college. He was involved in a number of incidents during his short time at Florida, until a fight with a teammate led to his dismissal. His decision to take a year away from football two seasons ago raised more concerns among NFL coaches. Willis has admitted to mistakes due to his lack of maturity, and says that he has put his issues behind him. Many teams will pass on drafting Gerald Willis due to concerns about his past behavior. If he has put his issues behind him, then the team that does take a chance on Willis could be getting a solid rotational defensive lineman, with the potential to develop into a disruptive starter at defensive tackle.