Round 3, Pick 103
Kenny Willekes DE, Michigan St.
I’m not overly thrilled with this pick, but Willekes is your textbook example of a prospect with elite college production but legitimate physical limitations. He posted 49 TFL and 23.5 sacks over three seasons with the Spartans, although he’s less of a sack artist and more of a backfield disrupter—he’s at his best blowing up the run game.
Willekes has the motor you would expect from a walk on, and he’s one of the most relentless players in the country; you can debate which of his skills will/won’t translate to the pros, but his motor is undebatable. He could stand to add 10 lbs to his frame, but he already possesses enough strength to hang at the next level.
Willekes projects best playing in an attacking (one-gap) defensive front, and his quick-first step and burst will appeal to Schwartz. His ability to slash through gaps and disrupt the opposing backfield is elite, and if he can find a way to add a more dependable pass rush move he’ll be a steal.
The concern, however, is that he won’t ever add an outside move good enough to compliment the rest of his game—NFL tackles will exploit this weakness and take away the B-gap. As of now his best edge move is working upfield quickly then flattening out towards the passer, but that won’t be enough to cut it for an every down end in the NFL.
The potential is certainly there, but his floor as a run-stopping, playmaking DE is what you’re drafting. With a third round compensatory pick the Birds shouldn’t necessarily be looking to hit a home run, and in the right situation Willekes can be a Michael Bennett-lite in Schwartz’s d-line rotation.