While the San Francisco 49ers managed to rebolster their blocking options by bringing back tight end Ross Dwelley on a one-year deal, unfortunately the 49ers were unable to lure back a pivotal piece to their defensive trench unit.
Announced by his newest team on Monday, March 20, former 49ers defensive lineman Jordan Willis is joining the Las Vegas Raiders.
Per Matt Barrows of The Athletic, it’s a one-year deal for Willis with the Silver and Black and now has S.F. in a position where they’ll need to add to the defensive end room, even after the Clelin Ferrell signing. Meanwhile, Barrows’ colleague and fellow 49ers inside for The Athletic David Lombardi was one who gave Willis his praise.
“Jordan Willis was a really good 49er,” he posted. “Obviously wasn’t a front-line DE but delivered a great motor to the Bravo unit and notched a huge special teams play in franchise history.”
Willis’ Impact on ‘Bravo’ & in Special Teams Unit
The “bravo” unit is considered the second rush options for the deep 49ers trench unit. And Willis did enough to be considered as the second wave of destruction for defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
At 6-foot-4, 270-pounds, Willis had the length and wingspan to be plugged inside while freeing up the edge rushers, then have enough edge speed and strength to be lured back at edge rusher. The result was a career spike in key numbers for Willis per Pro Football Reference:
Sacks went from 5.5 across four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets to increasing to 7.5 with the 49ers.
His tackle production increased by 20 from his Jets stay — elevating to 27 tackles for his 49ers career.
Willis’ solo stops (12) was additionally more than his NYJ production at four.
While Willis delivered four tackles for a loss in his first two seasons with the Bengals, he delivered seven stops behind the line in 26 games played in the Bay Area.
Of course, that production wouldn’t have been made possible if it weren’t for Willis convincing Kocurek and former defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to plug him in. Willis received 218 defensive snaps in his first full season with the Niners in 2021 then upped his snap counts to 266 the following season per Pro Football Focus.
But arguably, the most revered play in 49ers lore involving Willis was this special teams play that turned the tide at Lambeau Field with a trip to the NFC title game on the line:
‘Worth Noting’ Involving the 49ers
Again, Willis was more of a situational type for the 49ers while also adding depth to the DL room. But that’s not the only thing that Lombardi made note of.
“Also worth noting that Jordan Willis — like Charles Omenihu, Arden Key and others — was a player the 49ers acquired for cheap and developed into a significant contributor under Kris Kocurek,” he explained. “It’s natural to lose these types of guys. Key is to keep the factory churning.”
And the 49ers have created quite the factory in adding relative unknown rushers and turning into impact players when called upon. Omenihu brought a strength and length element, Key saw a spike in his sack numbers, even Samson Ebukam witnessed new career highlights before signing with the Indianapolis Colts.
Willis did good enough to win over the 49ers, then place himself in a position where other teams can tap into 49er free agents to bolster their units.