Ranking the Packers (No. 62): Gerald Willis
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 62: DT Gerald Willis (6-2, 302, second year, Miami)
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. “Family,” Willis said, played a key role in turning his life around.
"He realized it could be taken away from you just like that, and it was an eye-opener," Willis' father, Gerald Willis Jr., told The Advocate in August. "He had to reinvent himself. He got his stuff together in the classroom. He started being with the family. He started going to church. Sometimes you have to fall a few times before you figure it out, and I think he really figured it out now.”
Why he’s got a chance: Based on his background and accolades, Willis might be one of the more talented defensive linemen on the roster. He’s a bit undersized but has length 33-inch arms and decent athleticism (5.17). On the depth chart, there’s certainly room for Willis behind Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster and Kingsley Keke.