Jon Sumrall continues to make splashes on the recruiting trail and the second year inside linebackers coach just added a player to join his position room in 2021. Joko Willis is a junior college backer at Independence Community College in Kansas and he becomes the 10th member of the class and the first from the junior college ranks. This comes at a major position of need.
Willis originally hails from LaGrange, Georgia and that is a town that has treated the off ball linebacker spot very well to the University of Kentucky. Wesley Woodyard is still logging snaps in the NFL while Braxton Kelley was a four-year starter from 2006-09 at Mike. Both hailed from the place that borders the Alabama-Georgia state line. The hope is that Willis can come in and provide some much needed depth at a spot that will be very senior heavy in 2021.
Now it is time to take a stroll into the KSR Film and show you just what type of player Joko Willis is. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he could be a bit of a tweener between Mike at Will but with the spread slowly taking over college football it could be just what the defense needs.
For an off ball linebacker, the first thing you want to see is how they hold up against the run. Yes, having hip and ankle flexibility to allow you to play in space is key but at the end of the day you must be able to get downhill and deliver the blow. Willis is a skinny prospect, but he packs a punch.
This was a called stunt for Willis to storm the weakside A gap, but instincts still play a big role. You have to be able to time your move and make it count when you arrive. Wills does this by timing the snap just right and not blowing the opportunity on the mesh point. He attacks the handoff and it results in a forced fumble. You can’t draw it up any better.
Twitchy is a very popular word in the scouting community and every year during the NFL Draft you hear it said about 300 times. At inside linebacker, it is a very essential attribute to have. It basically refers to short area quickness and being able to make people miss. This is very important for linebackers who must get past big offensive line hog mollies.
On the B gap blitz, Willis slithers past the left guard and it results in a sack. On blitzes you have to have quick hands and be able to beat blockers in a hurry. If you don’t, any good offensive lineman will get his meat hooks locked onto you and you’ll be in big trouble. Willis shows the requisite wiggle and quick hands to be an effective blitzer at the college level.
The stunts are nice, but at some point you have to be able to possess the strength to hold off blocks and then disengage when it comes time to make a play. This is a must have skill for a linebackers in the Power Five. Anyone can play when able to run free, but what separates players is if they can play through contact and still make plays.
Willis gets downhill with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and delivers a violent blow. Just because you are the smaller player doesn’t mean you have to be passive and Willis brings the physicality to the point of contact. The collision created allowed him to get free and make the tackle for a short gain. You have to have this from linebackers.
There is no hiding from the fact that inside linebacker is a huge position of need and with blue-chipper Jaydon Hood recently pledging to Michigan and Devon Williams flipping from Kentucky to Minnesota, it definitely seemed like dipping into the junior college waters was a necessity. UK did that by heading to Independence which was the same program that produced recent blue-chip signee Jeremy Flax and where former linebacker Tra Wilkins will play next season.
Joko Willis has an awesome name to go with some flashy play. The twitchy off ball backer can knife through gaps and cause a lot of havoc. He also appears to be a quality pass rusher and a potential quality blitzer for Mark Stoops and Brad White to use in dime packages. The wide receiver in high school should also have the athleticism to go out and play in space in coverage. Unfortunately, there is no junior college tape available yet and this will be a player that we should know a lot more about this season. That is the reason he is currently not ranked in the recruiting system, but he is a prospect that should have three years of eligibility when he arrives to Lexington.
This addition is much needed and Willis appears to have the ability to play Mike and Will similar to both Jamin Davis and Chris Oats. That versatility will be key because Willis could fairly well be the top 2-3 linebackers returning in 2023. The chance to get early playing time will be there.
Kentucky is not done recruiting this position as they likely need to add at least one high school prospect in addition to another transfer whether that be via junior college or the portal.