Anytime you're a star in the making and you're mentioned in the same breath as one of the best to ever suit up in your respective position, you know things are looking up.
Meet this year's Dick Butkus Award winner, University of Mississippi interior linebacker Patrick Willis. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound senior is considered by many to be the most athletic and explosive linebacker coming out of this year's draft class.
In 2003, as a freshman, Willis appeared in all 13 games for Ole Miss, recording 20 tackles. Though he only saw limited action on the field, his efforts in the classroom helped him to earning the Scholar-Athlete Award from the Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.
As a sophomore, Willis made his way into 10 of 11 games, racking up an impressive 70 tackles, 11 of which resulted in a loss of yardage for the opponent. His sophomore campaign also yielded honorable mention All-Southeastern Conference honors from the Associated Press.
As a junior, Willis' progression continued, as he compiled 128 tackles (90 solo) in 10 games started. His efforts resulted in being named First Team All-SEC and First Team All-America.
Finally, this past season, as a senior, Willis continued his year-to-year succession, hammering the opponent to the turf totaling 137 tackles (87 solo). Before the season, he received the Chucky Mullins Courage Award. As the season came to a close, he was awarded SEC Defensive Player of the Year, first team All-SEC, first team Associated Press All-American, and lastly, the winner of the highly coveted Dick Butkus Award, given to the most outstanding linebacker in college football.
Throughout his career, Willis has displayed more quickness than raw speed but has never lagged in covering ground sideline to sideline. He has the ability to provide the big hit while playing both inside and outside linebacker.
Much like any premier athlete, Willis has that sixth-sense, a killer instinct, along with a keen ability to sniff out the ball carrier.
Willis is known to be very active in his community, illustrating his positive character. Also, improving each year on the field is a sign of hard work and dedication off the field.
A minor downside is Willis' ability to cover the running backs and tight ends downfield, which can be described as "decent" but not excellent. Not a common downfall of an incredible tackler, he often plays too high, being overwhelmed by massive blockers at the point of attack.
Furthermore, many scouts would like to see Willis bulk up a bit, as throughout his collegiate career, his weight has fluctuated between approximately 230-240 pounds. In our opinion, his size is hardly a detriment.
Barring a massive letdown in pre-draft workouts, Willis should be the first linebacker selected in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Expect Willis as being selected in the middle-to-late first round. The first
team on the board in need of a linebacker would likely be the Carolina Panthers,
who hold the 14th pick. If he were to slide past the Panthers, the next likely
landing spot for Willis would be the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 18 overall.
About Charles Roberts
Charles Roberts has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.
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