49ers desperately need Willis' explosive athleticism off edge


The 49ers reportedly made a trade Wednesday, and given how little financial wiggle room they have to work with, it's exactly the kind of move they should be making.

San Francisco reportedly acquired edge rusher Jordan Willis from the New York Jets on Wednesday in exchange for the 49ers' 2022 sixth-round draft pick. The 49ers also received the Jets' 2021 seventh-rounder as part of the deal.

After losing Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas to season-ending injuries and Dee Ford to one that could keep him out until Week 12, the 49ers have not generated anywhere near the kind of quarterback pressure that was so crucial to their success a season ago. Kerry Hyder and Arik Armstead have done an admirable job in stepping up, but there simply hasn't been the depth behind them to wreak havoc on a weekly basis.

At the very least, Willis provides another body to involve in the edge-rusher rotation. But there is reason to believe he could be in line for a considerable role, as he brings an element to the table that the 49ers are severely lacking.

Willis is an athletic freak. It hasn't translated into much success at the NFL level -- or at least not yet -- but the explosive physical traits are there.

A third-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017, Willis blew the doors off the NFL Scouting Combine, particularly in the speed and jumping metrics. His 4.53 40-yard dash and 6.85-second three-cone drill ranked in the 98th and 95th percentiles, respectively, while his vertical jump (39 inches) and broad jump (125 inches) ranked in the 95th and 93rd percentiles.


Of all the edge defenders in the 2017 draft, only Myles Garrett -- who went No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns -- had a better SPARQ score than Willis. In fact, upon entering the league, Willis' SPARQ score -- which blends an athlete's weight, explosive power, speed and agility into one metric -- placed him in the top 97.5 percent of the NFL.

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Granted, that was three-plus years ago, but given Willis hasn't sustained any major injuries through his first three NFL seasons, we can assume he hasn't lost much of that impressive athleticism the 49ers so desperately need. They currently don't have anyone capable of being an effective speed rusher -- just turn on the tape of the loss to the Eagles -- but Willis has the potential to change that.

Given how little the 49ers gave up to get him -- an added another draft pick in the process -- he is well worth the gamble.

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