With the 211th overall selection in the seventh round, the Minnesota Vikings selected Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes.
In 2019, Willekes was awarded the Burlsworth Award, given annually to the nation’s top walk-on. Willekes finished 2019 with 16 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Willekes is Michigan State’s all-time leader in career tackles for loss with 51 total.
After the season, Willekes was a late invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. This gave Willekes another chance to raise his draft stock.
“You’re down there with a lot of the best players in the nation, so to be able to go down there and practice with them, learn from them,” Willekes told FifthQuarter in an earlier interview. “I tried to learn from as many guys as I can about pass rush and having the opportunity to work with the [Detroit] Lions’ coach staff.”
In the interview with FifthQuarter, Willekes said he is most comfortable as a 4-3 defensive end. He mostly played that position at Michigan State. Willekes is a powerful player with an unrelenting motor that is constantly running. Although Willekes is not a world class athlete, he has shown some plays on tape with enough burst and great flexibility.
Willekes is best against the run, where he competes for the gap and dominates tight ends who are attempting to block. Even as a contain player, he sticks to his role and does not try and do more than he’s asked. Against the pass, Willekes has plenty of power and flexbility to beat offensive tackles.
Willekes may not be an instant start. There is enough talent, though for Willekes to be an instant contributor in a 4-3 scheme.
What the Analysts Say
Willekes has packed on the pounds and the production since arriving at Michigan State as a walk-on. He’s a high effort worker-bee with a relentless nose for the football. His refusal to give in until the whistle is more responsible for his success than his size or athletic traits. –Lance Zierlein, NFL Network
A high-motored walk-on who defied the odds and became highly productive for Michigan State, Willekes has the determination and the work ethic to outplay his draft positioning at the next level. While average athletic traits will limit his ceiling, he’s an intelligent and refined rusher who should stick on an NFL roster. –Jacob Infante, DraftWire
Kenny Willekes suffered a fall during the NFL Draft but the talent as a contributor is there. Willekes enters a situation in Minnesota where he can produce as a 4-3 defensive end or even as a pass rush linebacker, which he did at the Senior Bowl. Willekes has the potential to be a contributor immediately, even if it’s just in certain packages.