INDIANAPOLIS — Chad Henry, an area scout for the Indianapolis Colts who focuses on the Midwest region, as well as general manager Chris Ballard discuss what they saw in safety Khari Willis, the Colts’ fourth-round (109th-overall) pick in this year’s NFL Draft:
Does Willis fit that “box safety” template?
Henry: “I think, actually, guys (that) are calling him box safety are doing him a disservice, because if you look what he did for their team, they played him all over the place. I think he's probably most natural in the box, but the kid is so smart. I’m going to sound like a broken record here; his character is, I mean, he's probably one of three or four best guys I did this year.”
One of the best character-wise? Out of how many guys? Two hundred? Three hundred?
Henry: “Three hundred; ballpark. I mean, he is a unique human being. The city of Indianapolis is going to love him every bit as much as Indianapolis Colts are and that transfers into his football character. He's really smart. He's the guy the coaches really trust up there (at Michigan State).
“So, you see him not only playing in the box, but I mean, he's played free safety. He plays nickel. He's played on the slot and he did a pretty good job with that. I think he's faster than a lot of people and a lot of people give him credit for it and he tested pretty well that way. I think he ran in the 4.4s, and he's a very well-rounded player. I was always taught a long time ago slow safety usually get your beat, dumb safeties always get your beat. He's the polar opposite of both. So, we're really excited about him.”
With Willis, what was the way they primarily used him in college?
Henry: “He was really a utility player. I mean, because he was a starting strong safety. That was the good thing about his evaluation — you got to see him do everything. You got to see him play back. You got to see him play nickel on the slot. Got to see him man cover tight ends. This guy is exceptionally smart and you can see it not only in his play, reflected through who he is when you talk to him, but I mean, you can see him on film telling other guys what to do. He's the guy the more you watch, the more you appreciate him, the more you like who he is.”
Matt Eberflus over the course of the season started using more wrinkles with the defense. Does Willis give him more options in that regard?
“Absolutely. He was the guy that again, we felt that way, too. We were (saying), ‘Hey, if we get this guy here, he's done a lot of these things.’ We've gotta laugh when people are saying he's just a box safety. He's really not. We were excited about the options he could bring. I think that's the intelligence fueling that as much as anything.”
Colts general manager Chris Ballard also talked about Willis during his film session with reporters last month:
Ballard: “So we went through the process with him, our scouts kept bringing him up, and every step of the way, ‘What about Khari Willis? What about Khari Willis?’ And at the end of the day, with his character and his tape, it’s really good. And is he exceptional anywhere? I’d say he’s good everywhere. He’s good. And his instincts are exceptional. I thought he was about as good of a tackling safety as there was in this year’s draft. And then when we got into the fourth round, I thought there was a big dropoff after Khari Willis (at safety), so we wanted to go get Khari Willis.
“We were driven to get Khari. Like, when we looked at the board going into the fourth round, we said, ‘We’ve gotta go get Khari Willis.’ It’s like watching the stock market; all you gotta do is look up here, and there’s one name? Well, are you gonna wait for him? Are you gonna let somebody else pick him?
“This kid’s a really good football player, man. He’s smart, he’s tough, he’s got good movement, good speed — I thought he was gonna run a 4.51, 4.52; I think he ended up running 4.46. I think he can play different spots; I think he can play free, strong, nickel — he can do a lot of different things for you. He’s not (former Chicago Bears great safety) Mike Brown, who I was with in Chicago, but he’s got a little Mike Brown to him. But he is a really good football player, man. And wait ’til you get to know the kid: I mean, it’s exemplary.
“I think he can play in the box, I think he can play free, I think he can play some nickel, I think he can do a bunch of different things for you. … Here’s some slot work that (he’s) playing in the nickel. So I think just to call this guy a traditional box safety is off the mark, because I think he can cover tight ends, I think he can play more zone coverage and give you some nickel work.”