On Friday, we learned that the San Francisco 49ers were among four teams to hold a pre-draft visit with TCU guard Codel Iwuagwu, per Justin Melo of USA Today’s NFL Wire. According to Melo, that’s not the only visit via FaceTime the 49ers held. The latest meeting came with Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes, who also met with the Giants, Falcons, Patriots, and Jags, per Melo.
Like Iwuagwu, I haven’t seen Willekes play. Here is how the 6-foot-3, 264-pound defensive lineman performed at the NFL Combine:
40-time: 4.87 seconds
Vertical: 32.5 inches
Broad jump: 119 inches
3-cone drill: 7.39 seconds
Bench press: 32 reps
Each of those numbers is below average from an athletic testing standpoint. Willekes is aware of the narrative, and posted this video on Twitter:
"Not athletic, below-average athleticism for edge rusher"— Kendrick4️⃣8️⃣ (@kennyw97) March 26, 2020
"Physical tools don't jump off the page"
"Isn't a good athlete"
"Has pedestrian physical gifts”
Shhhh Just watch... pic.twitter.com/LpvLpzBu9C
Willekes was the Spartans team and defensive MVP in 2019. He was also the Burlsworth Trophy Winner and two-time All-American. Willekes finished his senior season with ten sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The season before, Willekes had 20.5 tackles for loss with eight sacks.
NFL.com’s scouting report on Willekes says he’s a priority free agent in the NFL Draft. Sports Info Solution’s is quite a bit higher, saying he’s a low-end starter. They have Willeke’s with the same grade as Iowa’s A.J Epenesa, Wisconsin’s Zack Baun, and Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings. That’s high praise. Here is what they said about Willekes:
Willekes currently lacks some physical and technical tools to get consistent pass-rush production, but his high motor and run-stopping ability will allow him to see the field as a good situational starter. Willekes best projects as a lower-end starter. He should see early playing time on run downs and on third downs. He has some upside with his high motor, toughness, and could reduce down to allow speedier teammates to rush the perimeter. His effort may be negated by his lack of speed on special teams.
He sounds like a late-round pick that the 49ers may ask to add some weight and play “big-end” down the line.