Draft Review: Patrick Willis

The 2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year

GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Patrick Willis played four seasons at Ole Miss, starting his final three years. He led the SEC in tackles as both a junior (128) and senior (137) and was a two-time first-team all-conference selection. Willis also was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and winner of both the Butkus and Lambert Awards as the nation’s top linebacker. He measured a shade over 6-1 and weighed 242 at the NFL combine. Willis lit it up at his workout, clocking a 4.56 40-yard dash with a vertical jump of 39 inches. Gosselin placed him No. 12 player on his Top 100 board for the 2007 NFL draft. Willis became the 11th overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers.

Here are comments on Willis from 12 talent evaluators leading up to his draft:

Scout: I knew he could run…but not like that. Tough, active and stops people in their tracks.

Linebacker coach: Not A.J. Hawk. A mid-to-low 1.

Defensive coordinator: Not nimble in space. Not an elite athlete but makes a ton of plays. Good, tough, consistent player. He’ll be an inside linebacker with limitations. Plays high and needs to learn how to use his hands. Tenacious. Late 1, early 2. As good an athlete as D’Qwell Jackson but not in Demeco Ryan’s class. Not sudden but he can run.

Defensive coordinator II: I’d take him before Lawrence Timmons (drafted #15 by Pittsburgh). When he hits you, he will hurt you. He’s Randall Godfrey. Makes plays sideline-to-sideline with his speed. He reminds me of those San Diego linebackers – big, fast and packs a punch.

Personal director: Could play weakside linebacker. Very athletic, his 40 time reinforced what everyone was hoping he’d be. Good change of direction, powerful and can deliver a blow. His only shortcoming is he’s still learning how to play the position, all the nuances in the middle. He’ll be like Derrick Brooks in a Cover-2 scheme.

Personnel director II: Not a Willis guy. There’s some stiffness and he gets on the wrong side of blocks too often. Stiff guys are susceptible to injuries. Tight in the ankles and knees and got hurt every year. A linebacker needs a change of direction and he has none. Strictly a straight-line guy. I want linebackers that are more pliable. Still, he’ll go in the Top 15 based on measurables.

Personnel director III: A New England- or Baltimore-type of player – a 3-4 team looking for size. His numbers were great but he didn’t always play great. Below-par coverage backer.

Personnel director IV: Top 10. A blue-chip player. Right up there with Leon Hall, LaRon Landry and Gaines Adams. (Adams went fourth, Landry sixth and Hall18th in the 2007 draft)

Head coach: The guy did it year-in and year-out for four years at Ole Miss.

General manager: Only true middle linebacker on the board.

General manager II: The #13 player on our board.

General manager III: Amazing he’s in the Top 15. He’s not Ray Lewis or Jonathan Vilma.

HALL OF FAME RESUME: This is the third year Willis has been eligible for the Hall of Fame and it’s puzzling why a player with his resume hasn’t been a finalist yet. He became a walk-in starter with the 49ers and went to the Pro Bowl each of his first seven seasons, earning a spot on the 2010 NFL all-decade team. He was the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year when he led the NFL with 174 tackles and also led the league in his third season with 152. His eighth season ended after six games with a toe injury, which required surgery. That also ended his streak of consecutive Pro Bowls. At 30 years of age, Willis announced his retirement that offseason, having amassed 950 career tackles, including 21 sacks. He forced 16 fumbles, recovered five of them and intercepted eight passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. He has since been inducted in the 49ers’ Hall of Fame and is now just waiting on Canton.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin resurrected his college scouting reports here for a look back at what NFL talent evaluators were saying about the top prospects coming out of college.

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