Malik Willis played quarterback at Liberty University (yuck and yuck) for two years after transferring from Auburn. He measured in at the combine at 6½-feet tall, and in Liberty’s biggest game of the year, at Mississippi, he threw for less than 200 yards, three interceptions, and rushed for less than three yards per carry. Also, he rushed for around 900 in each of his two seasons at Liberty and 10-plus touchdowns. As a passer he averaged more than eight yards per passing attempt and threw for 20-plus touchdowns in both seasons on a team that averages 39 rushing attempts per game. And for those people who have been obsessed with hand measurements since Kenny Pickett’s disappointing 8½ measurement at the combine, Willis’ hands are 9½ inches.
At this point he is the consensus best quarterback in this draft, and by now somebody high in this draft desperate for a quarterback usually would have talked themselves into snagging him. Especially after what he did during his pro day. Willis hit the scramble drill and launched a 65-yard moonshot and dropped it right into the receiver’s arms for touchdown, no need to leave the feet. There was an audible “whoa,” from those in attendance.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Willis ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in this down class for that position, and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has him as the second-best QB, but said that he has the most potential. Kiper has Willis projected to go to the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick No. 20. He says they really want him and will likely do what it takes to select him, even if it means moving up. To the teams ahead of the Steelers in this draft, many of whom need quarterbacks, don’t overthink this, either draft Willis or make the Steelers pay big for your pick.
There have been many less promising raw talents to go early in the draft. The New York Giants are still bumbling around with Daniel Jones whom they selected sixth-overall, the San Francisco 49ers dipped into the FCS to get Trey Lance with the third-overall pick, even the Buffalo Bills went with Josh Allen out of Wyoming — it was not that long ago that Allen was all talent no touch as a quarterback.
NFL teams talk themselves into quarterbacks all of the time because the position is so much more important than any other on the field. It’s also the steepest learning curve, so time and patience will be necessary. I don’t see why a team with a deficiency at quarterback could look at this draft board, and not have Willis at the front of their mind. There are some outstanding athletes ranked as the top players in the 2022 draft. Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are going to wreak havoc in opposing backfields, but it appears only one person can make that throw from Liberty’s pro day yesterday, and those are the types of plays that can change an entire team’s future.
Outside of not being 6-foot-4, one of his issues is accuracy. Even though he completed over 60 percent of his passes in both years as a starter for Liberty, two of its first four years in the FBS, there are reasonable criticisms of his ball placement at every level of the field. My counter argument, Josh Allen, two-year starter at a small FBS school. He is absolutely a more impressively built human being than Willis, 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, 10⅛ inch hands, and can arguably throw a ball as far as anyone who has ever played in the NFL.
But if we’re gonna talk about accuracy issues, in the clip above, Allen missed that receiver when he threw that 80-yard pass. In two seasons as a starter at Wyoming he never completed more than 56 percent of his passes, and never averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry. The Bills took him seventh-overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, and after some early struggles, he can now go blow-for-blow in a playoff game against Patrick Mahomes. It took two trades by the Bills to climb up from No. 22 in that draft to No. 7 but it didn’t cost them any future first rounders, and now they’re Super Bowls contenders for the first time since Reebok Pumps were flying off the shelves at your local Foot Locker.
Between the Jacksonville Jaguars No. 1 overall pick the Steelers at No. 20, there are eight teams in need of a new quarterback, and three more who should at least consider selecting Willis and letting him sit for the year. He might be able to get the Minnesota Vikings out of Kirk Cousins purgatory, or the Philadelphia Eagles back near the top of the NFC East. The Detroit Lions and New York Giants have many team holes that need filling, but they have veteran quarterbacks in place as starters and their coaches would be able to take their time to smooth out the rough spots in his game. Hell, the Giants have two top-picks. They should be the team that everyone is worried about drafting Willis — except for the fact they’ve never gone into a season with a Black starting quarterback in franchise history.
The best situation for Willis would be the Steelers and their stable organization. However, he shouldn’t just be able to fall into their laps. Willis is a quarterback over six-feet tall who can throw an accurate 65-yard ball on the run, and is capable of putting up running-back like numbers on the ground. He can be signed for the price of a rookie-wage scale contract. A contract that, depending on where he’s drafted, could count for less than $4 million dollars against the cap during his rookie season.
The smart play is to target Willis in this draft, and the other teams have only themselves to blame if he is selected by the Steelers and brings them back to glory.