GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers released defensive tackle Gerald Willis on Sunday.
A high school All-American, Willis spent his freshman season of 2014 at Florida but was kicked off the team. He landed at Miami, played in 2016 and took a leave of absence in 2017. So, here was the tale of the tape heading into the 2018 season: At least three suspensions, two schools, two seasons without ever getting on the field, one yearlong leave of absence, one fistfight with a teammate and zero starts.
In 2018, Willis returned to action and tallied four sacks and 18 tackles for losses among 59 tackles to earn some All-American accolades. The bad outweighed the good, so he went undrafted in 2019.
“My story helps me a lot,” he said at the 2019 Scouting Combine. “I’ve been through a long journey. Everybody knows. It helped me to focus and never give up.” Said Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: “I know it’s very easy to be cynical about college football and the impact that it has on these guys that play the sport. Everything’s not as good as it could be. But stories like Gerald Willis are at the core of what this sport’s about and the transformation in that guy from the first day we got here ... he’s a different guy and everybody sees it.”
Originally signed by Baltimore after the 2019 draft, Willis spent the first half of his rookie season on the Dolphins’ practice squad before being promoted. He recorded two tackles in two games but wound up on season-ending injured reserve (hip). The Dolphins released him before the draft and the Packers picked him up off waivers.
His older brother is NFL star safety Landon Collins.
Willis was one of three modest additions to the defensive line during the offseason. One was veteran Treyvon Hester, a seventh-round pick by Oakland in 2017 with two career starts. The other is Willington Previlon, an undrafted free agent who was Rutgers’ team MVP last season.
The release of Willis leaves Green Bay’s roster at 89 players, with only seven of those playing on the defensive line. They have to be at 80 by Aug. 16.