The story of Malik Willis is the story of a second chance, the story of finding where you fit best. After making a move that most would’ve viewed as a demotion or a resignation that the NFL was not in his future, Willis proved the doubters wrong and became one of the Draft’s most sought-after quarterbacks from the smallest of stages.
Willis came out of Roswell HS in Atlanta as a consensus three-star athlete. His recruitment was fairly quiet, as he only received offers from fourteen schools with only three of them being from Power 5 conferences. Willis didn’t receive much attention until the offseason after his junior year and he committed to Virginia Tech that summer. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Auburn made a late push for Willis, flipping him in late December, a week before he arrived on campus in Alabama as an early-enrollee.
Willis spent two years at Auburn backing up Jarrett Stidham† In a recent interview with Tzvi Machlin of Sports Illustrated, Willis admitted that his immaturity at the time likely kept him from succeeding at Auburn. After two years, he decided to transfer and found his way to joining Hugh Freeze at Liberty University, a school that had only joined the FBS ranks two years prior.
After sitting out for a year, due to transfer rules, Willis was named the team’s starting quarterback and decided to set college football world on fire. In his first season at the helm of the Flames’ offense, Willis had eye-popping numbers, despite the COVID-shortened season. In ten games, Willis completed 64.2% of his passes for 2,250 yards, tossing 20 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He tacked on a casual 944 yards rushing, nearly averaging 100 yards per game, along with 14 additional touchdowns on the ground. The Flames were ranked as high as 21 throughout the season with their only loss being a one-point road defeat at NC State. In their bowl game, they were matched up with fellow small-market phenom Coastal Carolina in an exciting overtime affair that left Willis victorious over the Chanticleers.
Willis decided to return for his redshirt-senior year and led the Flames to an impressive 8-5 against a tougher schedule than the prior year. Despite constant pressure from a less than reliable offensive line, Willis put up career passing numbers throwing for 2,857 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He again added a huge component on the ground, racking up 878 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.
The obvious asset that Willis brings to the table over the other quarterbacks in the Draft is his legs. He has a quick burst and excellent vision on designed runs and options. The Cardinals, Ravens, 49ers, and plenty of other teams have shown that an offense that incorporates run-pass-option plays (RPOs) can have a ton of success in the NFL if you have a quarterback who can run it effectively.
That being said, Willis is a quarterback, and a good one at that. He’s impressed NFL teams in meetings with his intelligence and ability to pick up on NFL concepts. He has elite arm strength and flashes the ability to fit the ball in tight windows. There are some technique/coaching issues that may help him improve his consistency and touch. He can take some gas off the ball effectively, but needs to improve the arch he puts in the ball’s flight. There are quite a few things for Willis to improve on, but he has so many tools already that the potential from these improvements gives him the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft.
It’s become a popular thought around the league that two quarterbacks will be taken in the Top 10 picks of the Draft with their likely destinations being with the Falcons, Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Willis ranked as the 27th best overall prospect in the Draft and Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Willis just behind fellow quarterback prospect Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh at 32nd. Despite ranking behind Pickett in both rankings, most analysts agree that Willis has the higher ceiling of the two and, due to his potential, Willis has every right to expect to be the first quarterback taken off the board later this month.