Khari Willis isn’t a household name entering the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet, Willis’ background suggests that he’s capable of becoming one at the next level.
Khari Willis is the seventh of 10 children. He’s the fifth of seven brothers. Toughness isn’t in short supply.
Willis, 22, is coming out of Michigan State for the 2019 NFL Draft after spending four years in East Lansing. A two-year starter at safety, Willis has a well-earned reputation as a leader and an intellect between the white lines. Now, the youngster is hoping to impress the 32 teams that will dissect him unmercifully in Indianapolis this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
While his senior-season tape is impressing NFL teams, Willis knows there is work to be done. He’s hoping to continue increasing his speed, working towards that goal at EXOS in Pensacola, FL. His day typically begins at 8 a.m. and goes through 5:30 p.m., beginning with breakfast and weight lifting before a series of running drills and speed work.
At 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, the team captain in 2018 showcased a wide array of skills becoming increasingly necessary for a safety to have in today’s game. Willis can cover in the slot or roam in center field. He also profiles as an immediate help on special teams, giving him added value to a team looking for a player with high-upside who can contribute from the jump.
“I’m an aggressive tackler,” Willis said in a phone interview. “A sure (tackler) in the open field who can also walk down, cover, blitz. I blitzed a lot. I can communicate on the back end. I can do it all.”
Most of all, though, it’s Willis’ mental acumen that will impress. Turn on the tape of Michigan State, and Willis is consistently around the ball. In the Underwear Olympics that is the combine, that trait will be tampered down on the field but will shine through in the interview process.
This was on full display in Chicago during the Big Ten media day back in July.
Willis was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Kickoff Luncheon, speaking on his experiences growing up in Jackson, Mich. The speech concluded to a standing ovation.
“My background gives me a mentality that I’ve been through a lot and gotten through a lot,” Willis said. “It gives me motivation not to go back there, and to help out.”
While Willis was talking about not backsliding into what can be a tough culture in his hometown, he does plan on returning to Jackson for the NFL Draft. Projected to be a mid-round pick, Willis will settle in with his large family and take in the proceedings, waiting to see which team will take a chance on him.
“Khari Willis is the epitome of a low-risk, high-reward player,” agent Michael Perrett said.
With the draft quickly approaching, every general manager and his staff will be parsing through legions of scouting reports. The goal will be to find both value and talent ion the later rounds, the lifeblood of successful organizations.
They could do much worse than landing Willis.