Coming out of Starkville High School in Mississippi, Willie Gay Jr. was a five-star linebacker, ranked as the second-best player in the state and the third-best linebacker in the nation.

He committed to Mississippi State, where he would put out some good tape over his three collegiate years, be even as a junior he wasn’t named a starter.

Off-the-field issues plagued Gay in college, but could he finally realize his superstar potential in the pros?


Willie Gay was a five-star athlete coming out of high school for good reason. You could only argue that only Isaiah Simmons had a better showing at the combine among linebackers, as highlighted by Gay’s blistering 40-yard dash (2nd among LBs) and explosive performances in the vertical (2nd) and broad jump (1st).

There are very few linebackers weighing north of 240 pounds, that can move the way Gay does. Linebackers that produced comparable numbers at the combine, tend to be 20 pounds lighter, like Deion Jones or Kwon Alexander.

That athleticism translated onto the field and he proved to be an asset in coverage during his time with the Bulldogs. He was able to hang with tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield, and he did a great job playing off the quarterback’s eyes in zone coverage.

The trait that will most appeal to Vic Fangio, though, is Gay’s tackling. He’s a reliable tackler who plays with good technique and does a good job of enforcing his presence in the middle of the field. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot up a gap to lay out a running back and embodies the term “thumper.”


The downside with Willie Gay has much more to do with questions off the field than his play on the field.

The root of the problem is that he started very few games in college and was suspended for all but five of this year’s games because of academic issues and a tutor violation. He also got into an incident at practice with a freshman quarterback that resulted in the quarterback getting injured.

However, according to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, a Mississippi State coach told him “That was blown way out of proportion.” On his Move The Sticks podcast, Jeremiah also reported that Gay’s interviews at the combine went well, and that teams were now more comfortable with his academic concerns.

On the field, Gay’s big problem is a lack of instincts. He has all the ability in the world to make the right play, but sometimes he just makes the wrong decision.


Willie Gay Jr. would be an excellent mid-round addition for the Broncos if they don’t address inside linebacker earlier in the draft. He would also be a huge plus in coverage, which Denver has needed for a while at the linebacker position.

He could use a little bit of development in regards to his instincts, and he may have to be eased into the league considering his relative lack of experience in college. His study habits are also concerning, but with the proper refinement, he could be a superstar.

Who better to refine him than the godfather himself, Vic Fangio?

Draft Projection: Round 2-Round 3

Player Comparison: Bobby Wagner