Colts Trade Up Shows What They Think Of Michigan Safety Khari Willis
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INDIANAPOLIS – The man who ‘likes them picks’ clearly really likes Khari Willis.
When Day 3 of the 2019 Draft got started, it was a bit surprising to see the Colts four picks into their new draft class and yet to have selected at safety.
That would change quickly in Round 4.
Chris Ballard decided to give up his 129th overall and 135th overall picks (a compensatory pick at the end of Round 4) to move up 20 spots to get into a position to take Willis.
With the 109th overall pick, the Colts took a guy they thought about selecting in Round Three.
“We loved Willis,” Ballard said of taking the Michigan State safety. “The more tape we watched on Willis, the more we fell in love with him. We thought about taking him in the third round. It was definitely in consideration.
“We think he’s athletic. We think he’s smart. I thought he was probably one of the better tackling safeties in this draft. We think he’s going to be a really good fit into that safety room. Not only from a talent perspective, but also from an intelligence and character perspective.”
The character aspect of Willis was extremely appealing. It was Willis who stood in front of Big Ten coaches last summer as a keynote speaker at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon.
Among the 300 prospects that Colts area scout Chad Henry looked at in 2019, Willis’ character ranks in the top 3 or 4, according to Henry.
On the field, the Colts see a safety that’s very comfortable as a box safety, playing close to the line of scrimmage, but also a guy who Michigan State used in other areas of their defense.
“I think I am a sure-tackling safety that likes to play around the line of scrimmage, but can step out on the deep parts of the field and make plays,” Willis says of himself. “I feel like you are going to get somebody that’s going to lead, be able to go down and guard people, press up on guys, as well as meet the backs one-on-one in the hole. I think I am versatile. I think I am well-rounded at the safety position. It’s just a matter of when I am going to take off (once) I learn the system.”
At the 5-11 and 213 pounds, Willis doesn’t have the same eye-popping testing numbers of many others in the Colts draft class.
But his projected fit with the Colts isn’t as drastic as it is for other guys.
The role Clayton Geathers occupied last year is what Willis should be expecting for his main role. If Geathers stays healthy this fall, then Willis’ defensive impact might be reserved for some sub package reps. But if Geathers is banged up at all, Willis could be starting this fall, and eventually take over as the full-time starter in 2020, when Geathers hits free agency.
You don’t trade up 20 spots for a guy if you don’t believe he can make an early impact.
Willis knows this as well.
“It indicated that they wanted me and they wanted me early and they didn’t want to take the chance of not getting me,” the two-year starter in the Big Ten says. “I think that’s a tremendous blessing and speaks to how they think of me. I think we think the same about each other. I think it’s going to be a great career, a great relationship.”