Unpacking Future Packers: No. 62, Oklahoma TE Brayden Willis
The Green Bay Packers could be losing veteran tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis to free agency this offseason. With those two potentially on their way out of Green Bay that leaves Josiah Deguara as the only tight end with any significant experience under contract.
When the dust from the 2023 NFL Draft settles, it’s possible that the Packers have one or two rookie tight ends on the roster.
A player that could be a potential target on day three of the upcoming draft is Brayden Willis. The Oklahoma tight end checks in at No. 62 in the Unpacking Future Packers countdown.
Impact in the passing game you say?
Yes. Brayden Willis would be a great addition to Green Bay's tight end/locker room. https://t.co/H5yrsdMGRG pic.twitter.com/TzCyJrahRE
— Brennen Rupp (@Brennen_Rupp) January 12, 2023
A three-star recruit out of Texas, Willis hauled in seven receiving touchdowns during his first four years as a Sooner. This past season, Willis enjoyed a breakout season, recording 39 receptions for 514 yards and seven touchdowns. The playmaking tight end also threw one passing touchdown.
“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure Willis had an NFL future before the season,” Ryan Aber, the Oklahoma beat writer for The Oklahoman, said. “But he made some big strides this season, particularly as a receiver. When things weren’t going well for the Sooners’ offense, he was a steady target for Dillon Gabriel.”
Willis gets after it as a blocker. He’s more than happy to do the dirty work to help open up running lanes.
“He loved to block,” Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables said during the Senior Bowl roster reveal. “What a punishing finisher.”
At 6-3, 239 pounds, Willis isn’t an intimidating figure on the football field like fellow 2023 draft-eligible tight end Darnell Washington. What he lacks in hulking size, he makes up for with grit and a tenacious attitude. He is looking to drive his opponent into oblivion.
“His greatest strength is his physicality,” Aber said. “He can hold up well as a blocker even against defenders who are much bigger. He’s also relentless, sticking with blocks for as long as they’re needed.”
Willis is a sledgehammer as a lead blocker. He’s like the energizer bunny with the effort he gives as a blocker. He will hit his target when he’s on the move and drive them into the ground. He gets into the chest of the man across from him and drives his legs through contact to create movement.
Oklahoma TE/FB Brayden Willis with a key block on this Eric Gray TD run.
Would not mind Green Bay landing both Sooner players. pic.twitter.com/WsRz4i2dQk
— Brennen Rupp (@Brennen_Rupp) January 12, 2023
“As a blocker, he’s solid,” Aber said. “I’ll be interested to see how that skill translates at the next level, as he won’t have as many mismatches. But his physicality will help him tighten that gap.”
Willis accelerates quickly off the line of scrimmage. He has the route quickness to separate from linebackers. This past season he showcased reliable hands with the ability to snag the ball away from his frame. According to Pro Football Focus, Willis was flagged for three drops this past season.
“As a pass catcher, he improved a ton in 2022, transforming into a tight end who could be flexed out wide,” Aber said. “His hands still aren’t the best, but they’re much better than they were a year ago.”
Brayden Willis goes up and gets it for Oklahoma! pic.twitter.com/2AZU1y0cWr
— ESPN (@espn) November 28, 2021
Willis is physical after the catch. He’s able to run through arm tackles with ease. According to PFF, Willis racked up 282 yards after the catch this past season.
“It’s physicality,” Aber said. “He doesn’t have breakaway speed but if defenders are in front of him, he’s not often brought down on first contact.”
During his time at Oklahoma, Willis logged 845 special teams snaps, including 186 snaps this past season. Last offseason, the Packers invested heavily in their special teams unit. That trend will likely continue this offseason and with his ability to provide an immediate impact on special teams, it’s a safe bet that he could be a day-three target for Green Bay.
“He might have been our most valuable player on special teams,” Venables said. “Just an all-around terrific football player.”
Fit with the Packers
Willis would bring a ton of versatility to the tight-end position. He can line up in line. He can line up as an h-back. The Oklahoma tight end could even line up out wide or in the slot. During Oklahoma’s matchup against Texas, Willis took snaps as the team’s Wildcat quarterback. He has the skill set to be a weapon in the passing game, as well as a valuable asset as a blocker in Green Bay’s rushing attack. On top of what he could bring to Green Bay’s offense, Willis could provide an immediate impact on special teams.
‘I think he’s a solid day three option if nothing else because of the versatility he brings to the position,” Aber said. “He can do a bit of everything and make the most of the role. Willis also is extremely well-thought-of for both his football IQ and locker-room presence. When Dillon Gabriel was hurt heading into Oklahoma vs. Texas matchup, it was Willis who was called on to be the Sooners’ wildcat quarterback. He was Oklahoma’s unquestioned leader last season and even through some turmoil, handled the role well.”
In a lot of ways, Willis is a lot like Deguara. However, it would be short-changing the Oklahoma tight end’s skill set to label him as an “h-back only” type of player.
He showcased this past season that he could be a valuable weapon in the passing game. With his versatility and skillset, Willis could be the type of player that could provide an immediate impact on special teams, as a blocker and as a weapon in the aerial attack.
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