What Malik Willis Needs to do in Order to be the Number One Pick in 2022
Malik Willis is being looked at as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. While his film is enticing and there are moments of electricity for the Liberty quarterback, Willis still has a far way to go. Coming out of high school, Willis committed to Auburn, but after consecutive years behind both Jarrett Stidham and Bo Nix III, he decided to transfer to Liberty. Willis couldn’t play in 2019, but had a breakout year in 2020. After leading Liberty to a 9-1 record, Willis has gained a ton of attention from the draft world and his name is being thrown around as the potential first overall pick. After watching his film, I believe Willis needs to have a transcendent 2021 season to get to that number one spot.
Let’s start off with his strengths. He is an athlete… There’s a difference between football and track speed, Willis has legitimate track speed. He’s an elusive scrambler and it usually takes more than one defender to bring him down on the run. Whenever Willis is on the move, defensive coordinators begin to sweat. He’s also a winner, as I previously mentioned he led Liberty to a 9-1 record. He beat the 12th ranked Coastal Carolina team that gave Zach Wilson all sorts of troubles, Virginia Tech, and the Syracuse defense that had one of the best secondaries in college football last season. When on the move he isn’t just a threat with his legs, Willis does a great job at keeping his eyes down field and throwing on the run. Willis plays the game like it’s backyard football. He keeps running and breaking peoples ankles then launches the ball 30 yards downfield. Willis’ biggest strength as a passer is making throws in between the hashes. In the NFL, I expect him to be used similarly to RG3 when he was a rookie. In his historic rookie season, Robert Griffin ran a read option offense with an outside zone run attack. He would read the defensive end and if the defender crashed into the running back he would pull the ball and run or if the defender kept contain to ensure Griffin didn’t run, he’d hand it to his running back (Alfred Morris). If the defense would crash inside to stop both Griffin and Morris, Washington would run an RPO that led to a wide receiver bubble screen. If the defense pressed the receivers up on the line, they’d run a play action pass downfield. This would be a great system for Willis to thrive in while he develops into a better pocket passer.
While all that sounds great, the first issue I had with Willis’ game was his throwing mechanics. They are very inconsistent, and it leads to him throwing ducks and wobbly passes. When throwing downfield some of his balls look like lobs that just eventually get intercepted. If you took away his ability to run, I don’t think Willis would be able to make it in the NFL as just a pocket passer. He’s not one of those guys who can make every pass on the field, he really struggles throwing outside the numbers when he’s not on the run. While Willis is a tremendous improviser when the play breaks down, sometimes he just does too much which results in either a turnover or sack. His “wind up” throwing motion causes his passes to constantly be either batted down at the line, stripped behind the line, or just flat out innaccurate. If he were to come out of college this year, I’d give him a third round grade.
With Willis’ struggles coming mostly from his mechanics, he got an early head start and is fixing those issues by training with Quincy Avery who is one of the best quarterback coaches in the nation. Avery also trains players like Justin Fields, Deshaun Watson, Jordan Love, and Trey Lance. Avery will surely make Willis’ throwing motion more natural and efficient. On top of cleaning up his mechanics, I want to see Willis become more patient as a pocket passer. Willis is so dynamic outside of the pocket, he begins to scramble way too soon and prematurely attempts to make something happen with his legs. He also needs to get a tighter grip on the ball because his loose grip makes it easy for defensive linemen to hit the ball out of his hands and get a strip sack. With Liberty being a smaller school, they don’t get a lot of top talent on their schedule year in year out. This year, the three best teams they face are: Syracuse, Ole Miss, and Army. After that, there is a major drop off in competition so he will need to show out against those teams. Willis needs to be sensational this year in order to be the number one pick in 2022. With that being said, he has the talent and work ethic to achieve that accomplishment in the not so near future.