There hasn’t been much talk of the New York Giants needing to add a tight end in the 2023 off-season. In large part, that’s due to the emergence of rookie Daniel Bellinger as a good starter.
However, the Giants noticed a drop-off when Bellinger was off the field with an injury. That would suggest that adding another versatile and dependable tight end would be an asset to the offense. And it just so happens that versatility and dependability are the name of the game for Oklahoma tight end Brayden Willis.
The red-shirt senior is experienced and has lined up at just about every position on the Oklahoma offense except offensive lineman. The Giants were very creative in getting the most out of their roster in 2022, so could that make Willis a natural fit?
Games Played: 38
Yards (YPC): 998 (13.3 per catch)
Touchdowns: 13 td
Games Played: 13
Yards (YPC): 514 (13.2 per catch
Best: Versatility, competitive toughness, blocking, football IQ
Worst: Long speed, agility
Projection: A high-volume number two tight end or H-back in an offense that makes heavy use of 12-personnel
(Willis is TE/H-Back number 9)
Brayden Willis is a smart, experienced, and versatile tight end prospect from the University of Oklahoma.
Willis played a huge range of roles and positions for the Sooners’ offense, lining up at in-line and detached tight end, H-back, fullback, slot receiver, wide receiver, and wild-cat quarterback. He executes well in all alignments, suggesting a high football IQ, and he is also reportedly highly regarded around the Oklahoma locker room for his leadership.
Regardless of alignment, Willis was usually used as a blocker in Oklahoma’s offense. He has great competitive toughness, a definite nasty streak, and is a tenacious blocker. Willis is a very willing blocker and was used as a traditional blocking tight end, a lead blocker from the backfield and on screen plays, and as an “insert” blocker as an H-back. He typically blocks with good technique, playing with good leverage and seeking to drive defenders off the ball.
Willis is also a capable receiver from all alignments. He was most frequently used as a part of route concepts to create traffic and separation for his teammates. That said, he is a reliable receiving option when the ball does go his way. He is a smart route runner who understands how to manipulate his routes and find voids in zone coverage. Willis does a good job of locating, tracking, and adjusting to the ball in the air. He also has reliable hands and understands how to position himself to shield the ball from defenders.
There are few true weaknesses in Willis’ game. However, he doesn’t have the top-end athleticism possessed by more dynamic “hybrid” tight ends. He appears to lumber when running and can round off his breaks slightly. Likewise, he won’t run away from many defenders and can be run down from behind. Willis can also be a bit inaccurate when asked to block in space on the run.
Overall Grade: 6.3
Brayden Willis projects as a “number two” tight end for a team that makes heavy use of 12-personnel packages.
Apart from his blocking, Willis’ greatest asset is his versatility. While he might not have the dynamic athleticism boasted by top-end threats at his position, he is able to be an effective blocker and receiver from just about anywhere on the offensive formation. Willis would be best utilized by an offense that is willing to make heavy use of 12 or 21-personnel packages and use Willis as a moveable piece.
He is undersized compared to the NFL’s prototypical tight end, but that doesn’t seem to effect his blocking. Willis plays with good leverage and technique, and has impressive play strength for a player who is “only” 240 pounds. He might not be able to take defensive ends out of the play, but he does a good job of “losing slowly”.
Willis should be a dependable receiver at the NFL level, and he has the ability to make himself available as a safety blanket. He has a good understanding of both route concepts and coverage schemes, and knows how to find the holes in zone coverage. He also has a savvy knack for appearing inconspicuous in his route running, appearing to dog his routes until defenders look elsewhere.
Brayden Willis doesn’t have the physical traits that typically get scouts excited for a tight end prospect. He isn’t an elite athlete and match-up nightmare hybrid tight end, nor is he a massive physical specimen. So it wouldn’t be a surprise for some (or even many) teams to not know what to make of him. However, he has the upside to be a very useful piece for a team with a clear plan and the creativity to make use of his versatile skill set. That could translate into a Day 3 gem for the right team.