Colts trade up for S Khari Willis who has family ties with team


EAST LANSING, MI – OCTOBER 20: Shea Patterson #2 of the Michigan Wolverines tries to get around the tackle of Khari Willis #27 of the Michigan State Spartans during a first quarter run at Spartan Stadium on October 20, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts remained in defensive mode as the final day of the NFL Draft resumed Saturday.

And their latest decision involved upward mobility, and some family ties.

General manager Chris Ballard engineered a third trade during the draft, moving up 20 spots in round 4 to select Michigan State safety Khari Willis. The trade with Oakland cost Ballard both of his fourth-rounders (Nos. 129 and 135) to move into the No. 109 slot.

Willis is the fourth defensive player taken among the Colts’ first five picks, and the second reinforcing the secondary. The first of the team’s three second-rounders added Temple safety Rock Ya-Sin to the roster.

Willis is a 6-0, 215-pound box safety that should challenge for playing time behind Clayton Geathers and Matthias Farley.

He’s also well-versed on all things Colts. His hometown is Jackson, Mich., same as former coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Tony Dungy. And he’s a second cousin of Bill Brooks, the former Colts’ standout safety and a member of the Ring of Honor.

“I’ve got a lot of family history with the Colts with my cousin playing there for so long,’’ Willis said. “(Brooks) has been talking to me, kind of mentoring me throughout this whole process. Just being with me, staying with me with everything.

“I know he’s going to be excited. I’m going to probably call him shortly.’’

The Colts had shown interest in Willis from the start of the evaluation process. They met at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and again at the Senior Bowl.

“We’ve been talking, getting to know each other,’’ Willis said.

Ballard covets draft picks, so his decision to give up both of his fourth-rounders to move up 20 spots to land Willis spoke volumes.

“It indicated they wanted me,’’ he said. “They wanted me early and they didn’t want to take the chance of not getting me. It definitely showed on their part they had an interest, to trade up 20 spots to get me.

“I think that’s a tremendous blessing. It speaks of how they think of me.’’

Willis is viewed as a “box’’ safety, meaning he’s at his best when patrolling close to the line of scrimmage. He started 30 of 46 games at Michigan State and generated 196 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions and 20 passes defended. He also was voted team captain in 2018.

“I think I’m a sure-tackling safety,’’ Willis said. “I like to play around the line of scrimmage, but can step out in the deep parts of the field and make plays. You’re going to get someone that’s going to lead, guard people, press up on people, meet backs one-on-one in the hole.

“I’m versatile, well-rounded at the safety position.’’

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