The hype surrounding Liberty quarterback Malik Willis has steadily grown throughout the 2022 NFL draft process. It began simmering at the Senior Bowl, continued through the NFL Scouting Combine, and peaked during Willis’ pro day when he made a 65-yard throw look like a soft toss in the backyard.
As a result, he’s been climbing in the first round of 2022 NFL mock drafts.
In the latest mock draft from The Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling, Willis is the first overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons, who strike a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars to move up for their guy.
“The Falcons mismanaged their quarterback situation so badly this offseason, they really don’t even deserve to land a dynamic prospect like Willis at this point,” Easterling wrote. “That said, they’re the perfect candidate to move up for him.”
It’s true. The Falcons are the ideal candidate to move up for Willis this year. First, they have the ultimate bridge quarterback in place with Marcus Mariota. Second, the cost to move up to the first pick shouldn’t be as expensive as it usually is. The quarterbacks in this year’s class don’t have elite grades; everyone knows it. So while a trade will still cost a hefty package of future draft choices, it won’t be the kind of robbery most clubs can pull off when they know there’s an exceptional talent at the top of the draft.
This isn’t meant as a knock against Willis. He has the highest upside of any quarterback in this year’s draft, but he isn’t the type of prospect we’ve seen over the last few years, including the 2021 NFL draft when five quarterbacks were picked in round one. Willis would be QB6 among that group.
I give Easterling a lot of credit for this bold prediction. The 2022 NFL draft is shaping to have an unpredictable first round; why not kick it off with an unexpected trade?
Is Malik Willis worthy of the No. 1 overall pick?
Willis is currently No. 32 on our 2022 NFL Draft prospect rankings. Obviously, I’d consider this a massive reach if he goes first overall. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to being ready to start in the NFL, and I’ve always been wary of betting on traits at quarterback.
I get it, though. Willis is the one quarterback in this year’s draft who possesses the dynamic dual skill-set reminiscent of some of the NFL’s best at the position. He has arm strength like Josh Allen. He can run like him, too. He can escape the pocket like Lamar Jackson and launch the ball 60 yards with a flick of his wrist. He’s slippery in the pocket like Russell Wilson, and he has the contagious demeanor of Joe Burrow. It sounds like I’m describing an elite prospect who should go first overall, right?
The problem with Willis, however, is his inconsistency. For every on-the-money Allen-like rope, he’ll launch the ball 10 yards over his target’s head. For every dazzling scramble away from pressure, he’ll tuck and bail before being threatened in the pocket.
Malik Willis’ ideal landing spot
A team that decides Willis is a top-10 pick better have a stable coaching staff in place. That’s why I think the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, would be an ideal fit.
Pittsburgh signed Mitch Trubisky for the 2022 season, and he’ll do an adequate job while a rookie like Willis adjusts to the NFL. Trubisky isn’t the long-term answer for the Steelers, though, and even if he plays well, he’ll be an asset they can move down the road. Willis, meanwhile, can develop at his own pace with a strong leader like Mike Tomlin overseeing his timeline. That’s a recipe for success.
But this is the NFL, after all. Teams get desperate, and sometimes, the biggest victim of that desperation is the player. Hopefully, that won’t happen to Willis.