Akeem Spence spent the first four years of his NFL Career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before a year in Detroit and then being traded to the Dolphins. Spence started all 16 games for the Fins last season.
The projections for Willis are consistent. FanSided’s Joe Romano has the highest projection of the four seven-round NFL Mock drafts we examined. Romano has Willis going to the Cowboys in the third round with the 91st overall selection. CBS Sports also had Willis going to Dallas, but with the 136th overall selection.
Willis would be an interesting selection for Dallas. The Cowboys were exceptional against the run last season. Dallas allowed 3.8 yards per carry. That was fourth in the NFL. They were only 17th in sacks. Willis could give them a consistent pass rush up the middle.
Willis to the Cowboys would be reminiscent of Russell Maryland playing on three Super Bowl winning teams with Dallas in the 1990s. The Cowboys selected Maryland with the first overall pick in the 1991 NFL Draft.
In his NFL Draft 400 scouting reports, Miller had Willis listed as a mid-round prospect and compared him to current Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who has 10.5 sacks in his six-year career that began with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“As a 3-technique prospect, he’s intriguing as a middle-round prospect who could hit and become a starter of at least contribute as a rotational pass-rusher,” Miller said about Willis’ NFL potential.
The Dolphins are a perfect place for Willis. After firing Adam Gase for former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores, the Dolphins will likely play a lot of both the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. In the 4 defensive linemen scheme, Willis will have a chance to start alongside Davon Godchaux on the rebuilding Miami Dolphins defensive line.
What you’re going to see out there this year is a team that’s smart, a team that’s disciplined, a team that’s fundamentally sound and a team that’s violent, tough and aggressive,” Flores said in a recent speech to high school and youth coaches. “That’s kind of who I am and I want our team to reflect that.”
Players respect that Flores is a former player who flourished in life despite growing up in a very tough neighborhood. Players respect what he accomplished as a Patriots assistant, calling defensive plays in a Super Bowl victory. And they respect that he is dead serious about his approach.
“He leads by example, man,” veteran defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “So we follow. He’s been great so far. Great coach. Great leader. And our guys are excited to play for him. He says something one time, and guys follow. Usually guys might have to repeat themselves here and there. It hasn’t been that.”
Spence cited an interesting specific example. Spence said some players in the past have parked in handicapped spots in front of the team facility before meetings or a practice.
“He told us don’t park in the handicap spot up front,” Spence said. “I haven’t seen one guy park up there yet. It’s that simple.”
After practice on Wednesday, Flores could be seen putting his arm around offensive lineman Isaac Asiata. Earlier in the day, Asiata had revealed on social media that his wife had recently lost a pregnancy.
“The hardship that has followed has absolutely broken me,” Asiata wrote. “But I have seen the lords hands in our life and have never felt him leave our side.”
Flores is going to create a bond with his players. He’s going to take the time to learn about who they are where they’re from and how they’re feeling.
But Flores is also going to exhibit tough love. He believes he knows what it takes to win. And the players appear to buying in — quickly.
“That’s the culture he’s creating, so we’re just going to follow his lead,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “He’s about his business. That’s the name of this game. This is a business. And we come out here to win. So that just shows us he’s about his business. You better go hard.”
At the conclusion of the 2018 NFL draft, the Dolphins found themselves still in the market for a player who could round out their group of defensive tackles.
Akeem Spence was just that player.
The Dolphins already had talented young players Jordan Phillips, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor at the position, but they really wanted four quality defensive tackles to implement a rotation where all would play about 50 percent of the snaps.
If they could get somebody with some NFL experience, that would be great. Check.
If they could get somebody with experience in the attacking scheme preferred by new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, even better. Check.
And, of course, the idea was to get somebody who would mesh well with his new teammates on and off the field. Check.