Shore Things: So the Internet wasn't done with blindly connecting Seahawks to Malik Willis?
When will they snap back to reality? Plus Godwin Igwebuike, Geno Smith's superstar cousin, and more: Seaside Joe 1591
The Seattle Seahawks were just as horrible of a fit for Malik Willis in the 2022 NFL Draft as they would be today, but that didn’t stop analysts from connecting the team to the former Liberty quarterback then, now, and in the future probably. When I say that I always had a third round grade on Willis, I do not intend to show off my skills as an amateur scout because I know I truly lack anything there of great value.
What I intend to point out is that a lot of other smart people felt Willis was a mediocre draft prospect, nowhere near the top-of-first pick that he was often projected as being, and it was only an uninformed (but loud) minority of opinion-havers who kept shouting him up as “ELITE!” in the months leading up to the big day.
That was just as unfair to Willis as it was to Desmond Ridder in 2022, and as it was to Hendon Hooker and Will Levis in 2023. But in my opinion, none of these quarterback prospects “fell” in the draft. During their final college seasons, the majority opinion was closely in line with their eventual draft selections and it was only once the NFL season concluded that people who don’t pay attention until February and March started grasping for “the next elite quarterback prospect” based mostly on measurements that don’t happen until the Senior Bowl, combine, and pro days:
Size, athleticism, arm strength, and then confirming their greatest expectations by solely focusing on highlights and positive traits, while writing off weaknesses and negatives as “attributes that WILL DEFINITELY get better with NFL coaching” ……
(in the smallest font in history: despite how rare it is for quarterbacks to fix those weaknesses at the next level because of coaching or getting slightly older and more mature.)
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I do not write paragraphs like these ones with the intention to pile on Malik Willis or to write him off as a quarterback who will never find a role in the NFL. I root for Willis to be great as I would root for any football player to entertain me by being outstanding at my favorite form of sports entertainment. It would be selfish of me to root against players just because them “proving me wrong” would somehow tarnish my abillity to cover the NFL Draft.
Everyone who does what I do is wrong at a rate significantly higher than the percentage they are likely to admit to.
I write segments like this one about Willis because I think it’s what NFL fans deserve. The people who read Seaside Joe deserve my most honest takes on football—players, coaches, teams, executives, fans, etc.—regardless of whether it is “nice” or “popular to say” or if it endears me to more people, including sometimes players, because the only thing you need from the people who cover something you like is the closest version of reality that the writer can give you.
It would be selfish of me to self-censor, to sugarcoat, or to bend my most honest version of reality for any reason whatsoever. Whether that be because I think it will get me more subscribers, whether I think it will make a player happy to see that I wrote something nice about him, or whether I think it will piss off fewer writers if I simply agree with everything the majority of them are saying.
I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of Colin Cowherd, the popular sports talk show host who hails from Aberdeen but is heavily criticized online for a variety of reasons that I’m sure we could come up with in short order. However, he said something once that really stuck with me and is so true: Most people in the sports media industry today write for other writers and not for their audience. Or you could spin that to any medium, whether that’s podcasting for other podcasters, YouTubing for other YouTubers, or tweeting for other Twitterers.
There is such an obsession with “growing your following” that people in my position often become fixated on how to network with the bigger accounts and completely lose focus of the demographic that actually matters: The fans.
A lot of people go online to say that they dislike or disagree with Cowherd and that’s fine—I wouldn’t go out of my way to defend him—but I think he’s gotten at least one thing right which is that you have to ignore all of those people and simply listen to and talk to your audience and only your audience.
Similarly, too many people I know are concerned with whether or not the players will like what was written about them. In the age of social media, suddenly you can be literally one click away from connecting with the people who you cover, which is a dramatically different reality than at any other point in history. You don’t need to have gotten a journalism degree (I know that I didn’t) or to have been hired by a major legacy newspaper (I wasn’t) to write something and connect with a player instantly.
But I see people who write about the Seahawks on blogs, some of them big, and they then have to start censoring what they say about players as criticisms, while simultaneously exaggerating positives in the hopes of not losing them as a follower or as a fan.
I find that selfish. And unfair to fans that expect experts to give them an exact replica of reality. Instead, what they get is a constant stream of “all the Seahawks are the best at their positions, the weakest link is going to have an All-Pro season, and you’re probably going to win the lottery today!”
Of all the origin stories I’ve written, Quandre Diggs is the only player that I know of who retweeted it to his followers and gave Seaside Joe his approval. I think that’s great, I want to do all subjects justice when they get the O.S. treatment. However, I also can’t be worried the next time I write about Diggs, “Well, will he like this? Will he be okay with this? What will Quandre Diggs think about this?”—Not if I want to prioritize my readers and reality over one person.
If the Seahawks have to cut Diggs at some point in the future in order to get better, I have to cover that fairly. I can’t censor myself based on the false premise of a “friendship” and I certainly can’t start writing about players as if they’re better than they actually are (which isn’t specific to Diggs, I’m just making a general statement here) in the hopes that a friendship will form.
That’s often what I see from writers these days, whether they cover the Seahawks, some other NFL subject, or some other industry entirely.
At Seaside Joe, the priority couldn’t be more clear: How I see the Seattle Seahawks is given directly to Seattle Seahawks fans; no fluff, no censorship, no waiting in line at the popularity contest.
Which finally brings me back to Malik Willis.
If I had to criticize my “pump the brakes” draft value analysis strategy, I would say that Anthony Richardson, the fourth overall pick in 2023, went much higher than I could have imagined based on what reports were prior to draft season. Otherwise, I’m mostly happy with my results of correct QB draft valuation recently, including that of Willis and Ridder when most others were projecting them as early first round picks.
Including often with the Seahawks picking Willis at #9 in 2022, or Tony Pauline and Rob Staton hyping up the rumor that Seattle would trade back into the first round to select Ridder. This isn’t meant to flare up debate of “Who was most right and who was the most wrong?” but instead to highlight that the perception of prospect value is often created by narratives that can be based on ANYTHING, including rumors, that do not need to be supported by football-based resumes.
Sure, Willis could have been drafted much earlier than my third round expectation—as I always say, it only takes one PERSON, not even one team but one PERSON, to make a draft pick decision that determines the fate and the expectations of every player—and I would have been way off, as I was with Richardson. But that wouldn’t have changed anything about Willis’s football-based resume, which was full of holes.
Willis transferred to Liberty in 2019 after failing to win the job at Auburn, then had decent passing stats and great rushing stats through two seasons against low-level Division-I competition. But much more damning than mediocre passing numbers and a disappointing senior season were just how obvious it was that Willis had a cannon that he couldn’t control and that he was playing schoolyard football that sometimes resulted in fantastic highlight throws once in awhile
I’ve said this so many times, but PFF is the worst offender at following the rule that “criticizing a player won’t gain any new followers, but hyping up everybody as THE NEXT BIG THING will get a lot more traction'‘; so you’re just never going to see viral tweets that say, “Malik Willis probably out of the league in two years” but you will see ones, even today, that dishonestly hype him up as a future Jalen Hurts. You will never see a bigger joke of a Twitter account than “NFL Rookie Watch” to find this same tactic in practice. Just in the last two days, that account has compared Drake Maye to Joe Burrow, said Andrew Luck and Brandon Marshall are Hall of Famers, and that Jerry Jeudy is “UNGUARDABLE”.
But quarterbacks like Willis do not have a good track record after transitioning to the NFL, if they even get that opportunity.
Willis did though, getting drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the 86th overall pick, and predictably there was a groundswell of support (by people who pounded the table for him in the draft and didn’t care if they were right or wrong) for the team to replace Ryan Tannehill with a rookie who clearly had a lot of developing to do after a wild senior season at Liberty; Willis had three games in which he threw at least three interceptions, two of them against schools that many fans haven’t heard of before.
And Willis did get three starts last season, going 6-of-10 for 55 yards and 5-of-16 for 80 yards in Weeks 8 and 9 against the Texans and Chiefs. That’s 11 completions on 26 throws that gained 135 yards for zero touchdowns and one interception. He played in 100% of the snaps.
Willis played against the Texans again in Week 16, going 14-of-23 for 99 yards with two interceptions. The Titans won the first meeting 17-10, but lost the rematch, one of only three wins by Houston all season long. As predictable as a clock, Tennessee drafted Will Levis with the 33rd overall pick in 2023 and now there’s talk of the Titans releasing Willis if they can’t find a trade partner.
Far be it from me to understand why, the Seahawks have been cited as one of the best landing spots for Willis according to Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports:
No one is tantalized more by a possible quarterback reclamation project than gum-chomping head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle. And check that quarterback room! Tiny!
Like Smith, Willis' ability to spin the football will never be questioned. He can really rip it and has more electricity in his legs. Last season, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron did a marvelous job creating an offense that resembled the Air Raid attack Smith operated at West Virginia. He finished the 10th-most passes of 20-plus yards and had the league's best touchdown-to-interception ratio (15:2) on those deep launches. Willis needs an offense like Seattle's. Waldron, a young but surprisingly stout offensive front, and DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett plus a pair of compact, bouncy running backs could provide Willis a comfortable environment to start the next chapter of his NFL career.
Trapasso has always seemed acceptable to me, and I understand the need to connect dots and create content in July, but every point made here is a confusing reach by my estimation. Furthermore, society needs to get over the fact that Pete Carroll chews gum…find some new traits, I’m sure he’s got a million others to choose from.
“quarterback reclamation project” - What is Willis becoming “reclaimed” from? He’s one year removed from being a third round pick and he’s yet to prove anything at any level of football, setting aside he may have been the worst quarterback in the NFL last season
“quarterback room! Tiny!” - I don’t know how a guaranteed starter and a virtually-guaranteed backup and an undrafted free agent to hold the reins on the practice squad is any “smaller” of a room than the typical
“Willis' ability to spin the football will never be questioned” - Consider it questioned…the ability to throw a tight spiral downfield is just one of the bare minimum qualities that requires entry to the NFL, not one that is simply possessed by the best of the best or even the starters. It should be every NFL QB.
“Willis needs an offense like Seattle's.” - Pete Carroll’s first three rules of offense would probably be: Don’t turn the ball over, Don’t turn the football over, and no turnovers with regards to the ball/football. Willis only needs an offense “like Seattle’s” if he’s capable of protecting the football and completing accurate passes, which he hasn’t proven at any level. So to what degree are the Seahawks supposed to sacrifice that element of offense just because Willis has a strong arm and can run fast? These are the same sentiments that made people horrendously wrong about Willis as a draft prospect, but it’s like nothing was learned by his “fall” or his rookie season struggles or the fact that the Titans moved on after only one year.
Jim Wyatt of TennesseeTitans.com does say that Willis outplayed Levis at minicamp, but that he’s still not guaranteed a roster spot like Levis is:
Seahawks—>Malik Willis was merely a lazy entry into the Internet conversation for draft writers in 2022 who wanted to be relevant and one that I largely avoided because I felt very strongly about the fact that Seattle would not go near the quarterback class last year. It wouldn’t have been HONEST of me to spend a bunch of time on Willis or Ridder, and so I decided early in the process to not waste your time with articles about them.
And though I did believe that the Seahawks would hold out for the 2023 draft class and therefore got as prepared as possible for the most recent quarterback class, I once again decided that it seemed too unbelievable for me that Pete Carroll and John Schneider wouldn’t take a quarterback and for the most part avoided writing about prospects (Anthony Richardson, C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Levis) who I felt wouldn’t be going to Seattle. I didn’t want to waste your time.
Yes, this is a long(ish) article about Willis despite the fact that I am confident he won’t be acquired by the Seahawks, but I could see a couple of reasons for its value to you today: a) If you’ve read about Willis recently and felt compelled to believe what you saw, I think I’m doing a service to throw cold water on articles like the one linked above and b) It allows me to repeat a larger point about what I see as the most important quality a person can bring to my industry and one that is getting harder to find anywhere else: Creating content with only the audience’s interests in mind and never sacrificing a pure picture of reality for the sake of selfishness.
If you think Seahawks content with a mission statement like that one is worth supporting, please consider upgrading to premium for as little as $5 per month or getting a friend/family member a gift subscription today; do that and you’ll be doing something nice for them, for yourself, and for Seaside Joe.
Joe’s Super “Super Joes” Suggestion Box
On that note, today I debuted a Super Joes-exclusive “suggestion box” that allows subscribers in the Founding Members club to ask questions that will be featured in an upcoming Q&A PLUS request topics for future articles on Seaside Joe. Only members of Super Joes received that notification.
I’ve gotten many requests for topics in the past and the only way I could manage them all down to something that could be tackled would be to make it a feature for our premium club, so consider upgrading to Super Joes for a full year and you can make a request/ask questions as soon as today! If you’ve already paid for a full year of Regular Joes, don’t worry, you can upgrade at a prorated amount to join the top tier and you’ll also get one extra bonus article per month.
But don’t worry, Regular Joes still get two bonus articles per week and more features to come when the season starts. It’s the support of you Regular Joes and that number continuing to grow each month that will be the primary reason that people take notice of what we’re accomplishing here; that’s the number that will one day make others go, “Wow, how did we miss what was happening over there right under our noses?” (Because they think the number that matters is twitter followers. Is that even a website anymore???)
Geno Smith’s cousin now the #1 recruit in the country
One day soon, both Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Geno Smith could be looking over their shoulders to see Jeremiah Smith coming for their records. One at Ohio State and the other in the family.
Jeremiah Smith is a five-star receiver committed to Ohio State, where perhaps one day he could break JSN’s single-season records set in 2021. If all goes to plan, Smith could also someday be the best pro and college football player in his own family, as he is cousins with Geno.
Jeremiah Smith is the cousin of NFL quarterback Geno Smith, who starred at West Virginia in his college career. Smith is a talent on the field, but Damien Jones, his high school coach compliments him for his work ethic in every aspect of life. “What makes him special is he’s a humble kid,” Jones said. “What I mean by that is some kids will become prima donnas, where a kid will get mad and sit out practice. But Jeremiah is constantly working and constantly trying to get better and trying to improve. You can’t say that about everybody, man. He loves to ball. He’s competitive. He wants to be the best.”
Jeremiah still has to complete his senior season at Chaminade-Madonna Prep and ESPN is lower on him than other sites, ranking him “only” ninth in the 2024 class. But he’s #2 at 247, Rivals, and On3, giving him a composite ranking of first overall.
Will Seahawks re-sign Godwin Igwebuike?
I hope so because today is the day that I finally learned how to spell his last name from memory. John Boyle mentioned in an article for Seahawks.com this week that Schneider says he wants to bring Igwebuike back, but that was before drafting two more running backs and signing Bryant Koback. For now, no team has been willing to sacrifice a roster spot and a nominal amount of cap space for Igwebuike, which is strange, but nothing new: He was bouncing around from team to team for a while before signing with Seattle last season.
Boyle mentions Dee Eskridge, Tre Brown, Kenneth Walker, Easop Winston, JSN, Montrae Braswell, and Tyjon Lindsey as others who could compete for kick and punt returns in theory. And that might be your answer right there: The Seahawks could try out at least seven guys on special teams before feeling like, “yeah, you know what, we need to bring back Godwin.”
Pete has said already that he wants the Seahawks to continue to return kickoffs despite the NFL’s new rules intended to deter teams from returning kickoffs. How much that rule is factoring into Godwin’s free agency, I don’t know, but…Igwebuike. There, I did it again.