Malik Willis and 8 evaluations that ask: "Why is he a 1st round pick?"
"Willis is more of a toolsy player than a viable starting NFL quarterback" "Film is dicey at best" and "He’s nowhere near starting in the NFL"
Will Liberty quarterback Malik Willis be a first round pick in April? We know that this has become the consensus in March, less than two months after Willis was a consensus second round pick. Seaside Joe readers are also aware that I believe Willis could be available on day two, potentially even in round three.
Though I will be mocked by some for this evaluation, despite mounds of evidence that “mock draft projections” often have little value when prognosticating how NFL teams actually view these prospects relative to their class counterparts, I’m clearly not alone in saying that Malik Willis has a day two grade.
As a matter of probabilities, I would say MOST draft analysts have actually given Willis a round two or round three grade.
Scot McCloughan noted that teams he has spoken to don’t have a round one or two grade on any quarterbacks in this class. Every single writer at TheDraftNetwork (out of six) gave Willis a low-to-mid second round grade. Todd McShay, Mel Kiper, Charlie Campbell, and the entire NFL Draft team at Bleacher Report have given Willis a day two grade.
I think what would be most impressive at this point would be to find a single reputable writer who actually does think that Malik Willis has a first round grade, let alone as a top-10 prospect.
It leaves me no choice but to ask the question: What the hell is the point of a “X round grade” if all roads still lead to Malik Willis ending up with the Lions, Panthers, or Seahawks in the top-10?
If Willis really does possess a combination of speed and arm strength that is too rare to pass up on in the top-10, then why wouldn’t an NFL evaluator give him a first round grade? That doesn’t pass the test of rationality. Willis will be most-often compared to Josh Allen when writers look to justify his placement in the top-10, but the 6’5, 21-year-old, 4.75 in the 40-yard dash 2018 prospect was always tagged with a top-10 grade. Where is the separation coming from between Willis’s grade and his top-10 projection?
My guess is that writers and draft analysts are afraid of being ridiculed for going against the masses. They’ve been ratio’d on Twitter once before and that’s one more time than they can stomach. Luckily, Seaside Joe has no fears of ridicule or ratios. Nobody could ever embarrass me: I did improv for four years, so I know more about being embarrassed than everyone at ESPN combined.
Almost every evaluation seems to hedge its bet: “I wouldn’t necessarily draft him early, but a team could because he’s a QB with enormous upside.”
I really do not believe that’s going to happen. However, I can’t explain why the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater or traded for Sam Darnold. The Texans once gave Brock Osweiler $72 million, mere weeks after the Broncos benched him.
I can’t sit here today and tell you that Malik Willis definitely won’t be a great starting quarterback in 2025. But I’m more than happy to declare that Willis will not be a top-30 starting quarterback in the NFL in 2022.
Willis has more arm strength than most, but arm strength is merely one marble in a jar of qualities needed to be a starting NFL quarterback. He’s got athleticism and upside, as does E.J. Perry out of Brown. A potential UDFA.
Here are a few QB evaluations of past years:
2010 - (PLAYER A) is a strong-armed, accurate passer (67.8 completion, 9.2 YPA) with a ton of upside. His ability to play in a pro offense, his footwork and slow release are all issues, but I think it's absolutely naive to dismiss (PLAYER A) as a promising quarterback when Vince Wonderlic Young transitioned into a pretty solid NFL quarterback when he played in a similar scheme.
2012 - (PLAYER B) had 1st round talent solely based on his arm strength. He was considered a raw product, but one that had the tools to develop into a strong starting QB.
2015 - There was no doubt that (PLAYER C) has great physical tools. He has a strong arm, size and excellent mobility. (PLAYER C) can make big plays with his feet in terms of taking off and running, or just avoiding sacks to by time. He also throws well on the run. (PLAYER C) will have to learn how to work under center for the NFL.
Just a few examples to run through…
Player A - Tim Tebow
Player B - Ryan Lindley
Player C - Marcus Mariota
Now let’s get to what writers have been saying about Malik Willis, perhaps the most coveted 2022 NFL Draft prospect, during draft season. I have nothing against Willis and believe he could make a great second round pick… How is that a “negative” when virtually ever major NFL source has given Willis a SECOND ROUND GRADE?
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From blitz replacement to eye progression to anticipation over the middle of the field, Willis just does not deliver in the advanced pillars of quarterback play right now. That is not to say Willis can never do those things moving forward, or has never shown brief glimpses of them, but they are not yet reliable parts of his game. He showed improvement in executing quick-game concepts from 2020 to 2021, which is an encouraging note, but as far as the 301- and 401-level quarterbacking skills go, Willis' film is dicey at best.
10 years ago, FootballOutsiders called Russell Wilson “The Asterisk” because he was the highest-rated QB prospect they’d ever evaluated by their measurements, but everyone kinda knew he wouldn’t be a high draft pick because of his height.
Ummm…. Malik Willis is not going to be called “The Asterisk.” At least, not for those reasons. If anything, he’s the anti-Russ: The tape isn’t there, but the first round grade is. And why not? He’s got a full 1.5” on Wilson’s height and his hands are only one inch smaller in diameter.
They do have one thing in common: Wilson was 23 at the time of the draft and Willis will turn 23 in May.
On the flip side, Willis' mechanical and operational inconsistencies lead to erratic timing and accuracy, and he doesn't throw with enough touch. Protection and receiver separation were both issues, but Willis also pressed over the second half of the season and never looked comfortable in the Liberty offense.
Zierlein compares Willis to a combination of Jay Cutler and Jalen Hurts. Neither of those quarterbacks ended up as “first round talents” in the NFL, but maybe a combination of both could do that? Zierlein noted 15 “weaknesses” in Willis’s game, which was more than I could find for any recent first round QB he evaluated; compare that to Trey Lance’s strengths and weaknesses a year ago, a player who still seems far away from contributing at the NFL level—and is two years younger than Willis.
Willis is the most physically gifted quarterback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, bar none. But his performance on the field in 2021 took a bit of a step back from a ball security standpoint and Willis played in an environment for the Flames that created some challenges. Willis often failed to get help from his receivers on throws that challenged their catch radius.
But Willis too often asked them to win outside their frame. Liberty failed to afford Willis with easy completions on too many instances—but then again, Willis at times forsook them in favor of extending plays with his legs. There is very much a blame salad to be had with Liberty and the challenges that Willis’ quarterback evaluation presents.
I do think in an NFL environment, Willis will have a great opportunity to develop into a franchise player given his dynamic physical gifts, but you’re going to need to both tailor your offense to his strengths and be willing to give him the necessary time to develop as a player and elevate his baseline of operations as a quarterback. Willis currently is more of a thrower than a quarterback and he relies on his athleticism to help facilitate and create explosive plays.
TDN Consensus: 83.75/100 (Second Round Value)
There are six prospect evaluators at The Draft Network and all six gave Malik Willis about the same grade going into the draft: All six gave him a mid-second round grade. All six.
Crabbs Grade: 84.00/100
Marino Grade: 84.00/100
Harris Grade: 83.00/100
Sanchez Grade: 83.50/100
Weissman Grade: 84.00/100
Parson Grade: 84.00/100
Crabbs compared Willis to Jordan Love but “with rocket shoes” which is essentially the same as saying, “He can’t pass, but he can run.” It sounds more like an evaluation of basically any good NFL prospect who isn’t a quarterback. You want all your NFL players to be fast. It’s the quarterback who you want to be able to throw the ball.
It’s like having a soccer goalie and saying, “He has no hands, but he can run.”
You’re not worried about the hands of any soccer player… except for the goalie. There, it is pretty important.
He’s the type of guy that can extend plays, keep his eyes down the field while under pressure, and he has the arm talent to make every single throw; however, Willis is in desperate need of development. He’s nowhere near starting in the NFL at this point.
If the Seahawks draft a quarterback in the first round, there will be immediate pressure from the fans and the media to start him FROM DAY ONE. That’s unquestionable to me, I know what fans do, and I saw it with Justin Fields vs. Andy Dalton from the moment that the Bears traded up. That combination worked out horribly for Chicago’s front office, coaching staff, and even for Fields.
Putting Willis into the mix in Seattle will doom Drew Lock’s chance to get a real opportunity with the Seahawks. And it won’t be right for Willis, who should go to a team that guarantees his place on the bench next season.
However, Willis’ process is inconsistent. He lacks a plan on a good chunk of his plays and appears to be guessing on which routes come open. Willis will seemingly be all-in on a singular route on a play and ends up going coast to coast with his eyes way too often. He will wait for a receiver to pop open instead of showing true understanding of the concept being run. He will look to scramble too quickly on other plays where he’s going one-and-done with his reads as well.
Willis' athleticism is a huge plus since he can make defenders miss in space, but it’s hard to make a living in the NFL with just your legs. His pocket movement is exaggerated, and he works backward in the pocket, which will lead to a lot of sacks in the NFL with more athletic defenders looping.
Overall, Willis is more of a toolsy player than a viable starting NFL quarterback at this point in time.
B/R’s final grade was a 2nd round pick, 47th overall, and his pro comparison is Tyrod Taylor.
“Some guys really love Willis. Other guys think, ‘I'm getting Jalen Hurts, at best,’” McShay says. “I think he’s more athletic, a more dynamic athlete and he definitely has a stronger arm, but Hurts was more mature and won bigger games in bigger scenes. … Malik has the biggest upside, but there’s probably the lowest floor of all the guys.”
So, essentially, Willis needs someone to go all-in on and build an offense for him.
“No one’s Lamar [Jackson] athleticism-wise, like the Ravens went all-in on his mobility and what he can do and built the whole organization around that,” McShay says. “The same with the Bills and Josh Allen. They developed him and he always had the arm talent; he just had to work on timing and the accuracy has improved greatly from Wyoming. And Jalen Hurts, the same with the Eagles. They went all in on Hurts this past year and he really developed and improved for a good portion of the year.
It will take someone to believe in Willis and say, per McShay, “This is what we’re doing. We’re changing everything.”
Neither ESPN analyst was ready to call Willis a top-10 pick, but both conceded that maybe an NFL team will do it anyway. “Sure, do it anyway” is not necessarily the reaction you want from Seattle’s top-10 pick.
"I would say no on the quarterback, because the quarterbacks for me, you go by your rankings, are 18, 19, 21, 28," Kiper said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "If you're picking in the top 10, that's way too rich for me. I sought this from my friends in the league who don't need quarterbacks, but they don't have quarterbacks ranked in the top 10, either. But it only takes the teams, obviously, that need quarterbacks to believe that."
Not “too rich for me.” But “way too rich” for me. And Kiper mostly bases his analysis on what he hears around the league. What’s he actually hearing?
Willis has some raw elements to his game as a passer and needs development. The biggest point of improvement is field vision. He has to get better at reading defenses, working through his progressions, and throwing the ball to the right receiver. With his lack of height, Willis can get blinded by the line and does not see the field well consistently. He also does not anticipate receivers coming open and has to see them come open before he pulls the trigger. NFL sources have also said that Willis has poor awareness, which is something that will need a lot of development. Willis can struggle to operate exclusively as a pocket passer, and pro defenses could give him problems by containing him on the edges and forcing him to beat them from the pocket.
Willis has a tendency to stare down his primary read and predetermine where he is going with the ball. He needs to get better at working through his reads and get fast at it for the NFL. At Liberty, Willis had a lot of receivers running wide open, and he will need to grow (sic) comfortable at throwing into tighter windows as a pro.
Footwork is another point of improvement for Willis, who can throw flatfooted and sometimes seems too reliant on his arm. Improving his footwork fundamentals will make him more accurate for the NFL.
Player Comparison: Jalen Hurts. Similar to Hurts, Willis has some limitations as a passer in terms of seeing the field, awareness, and demonstrating consistent effectiveness as a pocket-passer. Both have a good dual-threat skill set of mobility to go with arm talent. In the NFL, Willis could end up being a quarterback similar to Hurts. Some team sources have also compared Willis to Tyrod Taylor.
This is another comparison here to Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft and also a potential NFL backup in 2022 depending on what the Eagles do at the position.
It seems as though two years of pro development time for Hurts has only further solidified Hurts as a project. Also, Jalen Hurts is barely one year older than Willis.
Where would you grade the Malik Willis pick if he went 9th overall? Where would you grade the pick if the Seahawks took him 40th or 41st overall? Tell me in the comments! Which QB would you most like to see in Seattle’s 2022 draft class?