Summer Scouting: Kenny Willekes, Edge, Michigan State

Player Name: Kenny Willekes

Position: Edge

School: Michigan State

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 262 lbs

Classification: Redshirt Senior

 

Year

School

POS

GM

Tot TK

TFL

Sack

INT

PD

FF

FR

2016

Mich St

DE

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

2017

Mich St

DE

13

72

13

5.5

0

2

0

1

2018

Mich St

DE

13

78

20.5

8.0

1

4

1

1

 

It is hard to believe that Kenny Willekes, Michigan’s State’s All American defensive end, left NorthPointe Christian High School with no recruiting stars or a single Division 1 scholarship offer to his name. Even more perplexing following an all state senior season where he accounted for 162 tackles and 6.5 sacks, chipping in with more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns as a running back on offense.

Instead of settling to play linebacker for a smaller level school, Willekes opted to stay in state with a walk on opportunity at Michigan State University. After working mostly with the scout team his first couple of seasons, Willekes got his opportunity. The rest is history.

Willekes was named an all American selection following the 2018 season, setting himself up for a huge final collegiate season. Unfortunately for Willekes, the 2018 season ended on a sour note, suffering a broken fibula in Michigan State’s Redbox Bowl defeat to the University of Oregon. It appears Willekes is well above schedule in rehab.

If he is able to make it all the way back to pre injury form, we are talking about a very interesting prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft. Just how exciting a prospect will Kenny Willekes be? Here is my complete summer film evaluation, and what his draft future may entail.

 

Functional Athleticism

The first thing you notice on tape from Willekes is just how explosive he is laterally. With a cat quick inside counter, Willekes often leaves offensive lineman grasping for air as they become overextended to the point that their upper bodies become lateral to the ground (not the ideal blocking position).

 

Willekes first step quickness out of his stance is also very impressive. Usually a very well timed jump off the snap, he has the ability to get offensive lineman into some very awkward positions up the arc. He forces offensive tackles to overcompensate, allowing for their inside shoulders to lose integrity to the line of scrimmage, leading to those inside counter opportunities.

Right now, his first step is much better than his second and third. He doesn’t quite have the explosiveness through the second phase as a pass rusher to threaten the corner with enough regularity. He wins much more up the arc with technique than explosiveness.

Despite that lack of speed transition, Willekes still profiles as an above average linear athlete who understands the importance of manipulating angles. Combine that functional athleticism with his length and added bulk this off season, we’re cooking with grease my friends!

 

Pass Rush Repertoire

Right now Willekes wins either with a club rip to flatten the corner, or with an inside counter with any type of regularity. His inside counter stands as his best pass rush move without question.

He does an excellent job to attack offensive lineman hard to their up field shoulders. After he gains depth/leverage, he accelerates to the near shoulder. At this point, these linemen have zero chance of redirecting into anything that would resemble a solid blocking position. He has a clear understanding of angle manipulation, and more importantly, how to get blockers into these awkward positions.

The tricky part with this evaluation is that Willekes does not win nearly enough through the up field shoulder as a player of his length and first step quickness would expect. There appears to be some tightness in his hips when cornering, more often than not ending in a leverage stalemate with offensive tackles… but there is hope my friends!

It is not nearly as frequent enough for my liking, but Willekes will throw one of these reps on film from time to time. With flexibility and bend on display, Willekes demonstrates great hand usage at the top of the arc. These types of reps are exciting for his future projection.

It is easy to forget that the former walk on is still relatively new to the edge position, after serving mostly as an off ball linebacker during his high school career.

Willekes tried to throw in a spin from time to time on film, but he was not successful from my viewing. He lacked patience with his spin, starting his movement before he had made contact with the offensive linemen. This space before contact allowed for the blocker to catch while still in a balanced position. The speed of his turn was sufficient enough. He just needs to be more patient, waiting to strike until he has forced the issue on the up field shoulder.

Now where to go from here? The good news is Willekes has been working to improve his pass rush repertoire this off season.

As he mentioned, improving his speed rush is a huge point of emphasis this off season. The ability to win around the corner will only make the rest of his arsenal all the more successful.

So what else can he add? He possesses notable length that should translate well to a deadly long arm. That move is currently absent from his film, but it is certainly projectable. After that, a jab and go would be nice to add.

I would certainly like to also see a bull rush, establishing a speed to power translation. The more he can add to his arsenal before transitioning to the next level, the easier of an evaluation he should be.

 

Technique (Run and Pass game)

The technical aspects of Willekes game is notable for a player who is still developing to the position. There is an attention to detail to his game, making the floor quite high for his eventual projection. He maintains square pads to the line of scrimmage, maintaining proper gap integrity through excessive contact.

He remains square even on the backside of run plays, showing the ability to squeeze backside gaps effectively. This ability to squeeze is essential against zone concepts, leaving no cut back opportunities.

He also shows a superb ability use his length effectively, able to stack and shed blockers on the front side in the run game. This extension provides him to maintain proper vision. This ability may help his projection to odd man fronts who value this ability in more spacious situations.

As a pass rusher, Willekes checks the technical aspects of his game. His hand usage is exemplary, consistently keeping his chest clean to the top of the arc. This hand usage is violent and consistent throughout his reps, remaining active with high emphasis to create space.

To make up for a lack of bend, Willekes does a nice job to get his inside foot turned toward the quarterback. Here to break it to you folks, the quickest distance between two points is a straight line. Mind blowing right? Well Willekes has his PHD in geometry apparently, he is the master of angles.

 

Flexibility

Willekes is not the most flexible athlete in the world. He lacks the ability to corner at a desired rate, showing some tightness in his hips and lower half. He has shown several instances being able to corner, turn his track, flatten and turn to run.

I just have to see it more this season. His lateral quickness/mobility make you believe that he has that potential in him. This is especially important with the bull rush component absent to his game. I can’t at this point label him as just a linear athlete. The ceiling is much more than that.

 

Versatility

I love Willekes with his hand in the dirt out of a three point stance. There he is able to demonstrate outstanding pad level/leverage. That allows him to eat up ground in his first three steps up the arc, while maintaining proper leverage at the point of attack.

His added bulk this off season will provide him with an easy transition to defensive end position in a four man front. There he can do the dirty work taking on pulling guards, setting an edge, playing over tight ends, etc. Although, I don’t dislike him as a space player, it would not be my first choice. I don’t want him playing off ball, or having a ton of responsibility outside of the tackle box.

He has flashed the IQ and football awareness to make plays out of structure. He has a feel to find himself in the right spot, at the right time, always around the football. So playing an outside linebacker position in an odd front is not completely out the door, and I do like the possibility of him getting some one on one opportunities in pass rush situations.

But how will he be rushing out of a two point stance? We just don’t know what to expect out of him in that alignment. It is a major wildcard for me, but not one that should be completely thrown out.

My main skepticism for that transition to an odd front, is I just do not want Willekes going backwards. I want him attacking the football. Then there is the whole having responsibilities in coverage thing that is especially troublesome for Willekes. Can he survive in coverage? Anything is possible but why fix something that isn’t broken?

 

Bottom Line

As far as NFL projection, I am quite the fan of Michigan State edge Kenny Willekes. He has shown a variety of pass rush moves in his ever expanding arsenal that make him a very difficult matchup for offensive linemen. As a run defender, Willekes possesses the length and physicality at the point of attack to affect the game in a variety of ways. If he can regain his pre injury form, we are talking about a potential first round talent.

The former walk on possesses desired traits to fit various roles on the edge on the professional level. With the length, functional athleticism and production Willekes boasts, he is a high floor prospect who is still just beginning to tap into his long term potential.

Latest News

2020 NFL Draft: Senior Bowl Matchups that Could Shape the Class

It is hard to be on twitter these days without catching a glimpse at some big new...

Big-12 Championship: Preview & Draft Implications

The Big-12 Championship is perhaps the most intriguing of all the conference title matchups this weekend. Oklahoma and Baylor treated the nation...

Pac-12 Championship: Preview & Draft Implications

The Pac-12 Championship game pits a pair of programs in Utah and Oregon who have their eyes set on the national stage....

SEC Championship: Preview & Draft Implications

LSU and Georgia meet on Saturday, December 7th for the SEC Championship. The game features a number of high-profile NFL Draft prospects, and will go a long way to determining the College Football Playoff rankings.

Derrick Brown: A Top-5 Player in the 2020 NFL Draft

Last year, we were fortunate to have fantastic interior defensive linemen like Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, and Ed Oliver enter the draft....

More Articles Like This