On Tuesday, the media assembled alongside NFL front offices and coaches to watch the first 2022 Senior Bowl practice. Malik Willis stood out among others.
MOBILE — It took one afternoon to figure out Malik Willis will be the top quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Willis, 22, was one of six quarterbacks who took part in the first day of practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. While Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder all had glimpses of potential, none looked like Willis.
The difference? Arm strength. Although each of the other aforementioned signal-callers all displayed adequate arms, Willis was throwing one missile after the next, hitting on a variety of routes and different depths. It was an impressive showing, albeit one which included a smattering of inaccuracy and rocket balls which could have been given more touch.
No matter. Anybody who understands the psyche of an NFL personnel man knows this: arm strength can’t be taught, but a little finesse can be. There’s limited upside with a quarterback who can’t throw the whole route tree, and while Willis has plenty to prove, being able to throw outside the numbers and deep downfield aren’t among his concerns.
At Liberty, Willis played sub-standard competition. Following two years on the bench at Auburn, he transferred and started the last two seasons for the Flames. Here’s how those campaigns stack up:
2020: 64.2% … 2,250 passing yards … 20 TDs … 6 INTs … 944 rushing yards … 14 TDs (10 games)
2021: 61.1% … 2,857 passing yards … 27 TDs … 12 INTs … 878 rushing yards … 13 TDs (13 games)
Malik Willis might be the best quarterback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft
Is Willis worthy of being a first-round pick? Hard to say. His skill set is ideally suited for today’s NFL with the ability to be mobile while also having a rocket arm. Also, at 6-foot and 220 pounds, size and durability come into the equation for a player who loves to run. Furthermore, the accuracy concerns are legitimate, however, and his statistics aren’t beaming, especially when you factor in the schedule faced.
And yet, one of Willis’ best games at Liberty came in the 2020 Cure Bowl against the No. 9 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The transfer rank for a quartet of touchdowns while throwing and passing for 137 yards apiece. Liberty won in overtime, 37-34, and Willis was named the game’s MVP.
In a perfect world, Willis would get the Trey Lance treatment. A team selects him, gives the youngster a year to grow and then ultimately takes the main job over in 2023. Who fits this bill? The Atlanta Falcons, Washington Football Team, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns among others.
Ultimately, in a year where many NFL execs believe the quarterback pool is quite shallow, Willis’ raw talents might be able to vault him into the top half of the first round.