Schrager: Malik Willis 'Has a Lot of Fans Around' the NFL; QB to Steelers in New Mock

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVApril 19, 2022

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis runs through passing drills during Liberty Football Pro Day in Lynchburg, Va., on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Kendall Warner)
AP Photo/Kendall Warner

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis reportedly has no shortage of supporters within the NFL ahead of next week's 2022 NFL draft.

In his latest mock draft, NFL Network's Peter Schrager projected that Willis will go 20th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In doing so, Schrager noted that Willis "has a lot of fans around the league."

Even so, Schrager wrote that he is unsure if any team is willing to use a top-10 selection on Willis. Instead, Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett was the first quarterback off the board for Schrager, going sixth overall to the Carolina Panthers.

While Pickett seemed like the clear top quarterback in the 2022 class at the start of the predraft process, Willis may have turned the tide in his favor.

In terms of skill set, Willis has outshined most of the other quarterbacks in the draft. Aside from showcasing great speed and mobility during his college years, Willis showed off a cannon of an arm at his pro day.

Additionally, there are some concerns about Pickett's long-term viability as a starting NFL quarterback, primarily because his hands measured 8⅝" at his pro day.

Hand size doesn't necessarily guarantee or preclude NFL success, but it is notable that Pickett would have the smallest hands of any quarterback in the league.

Willis doesn't come without some physical concerns as well, especially the fact that he measured just 6'0½" feet at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Shorter quarterbacks than him have enjoyed spectacular NFL careers, though, including Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.

Perhaps the main thing that could give NFL teams pause regarding using a high pick on Willis is the fact that he played against a low level of competition in college (the Flames played as an independent) and was inconsistent at times.

After being unable to catch on as the starter at Auburn for two seasons, the Atlanta native transferred to Liberty, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, and found some success.

In 2020, he appeared in 10 games and completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,250 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for 944 yards and 14 scores.

Despite playing 13 games last season, Willis saw a dip in production in several areas, as he completed 61.1 percent of his attempts for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions to go along with 878 yards and 13 scores on the ground.

Toolsy quarterbacks like Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals and Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers have shown in recent years, though, that it is often worth gambling on quarterbacks with elite traits such as arm strength and mobility.

While it is possible that Willis falls all the way to the Steelers at No. 20, it isn't outside the realm of possibility that he could go as high as No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions, who need a long-term answer at quarterback over Jared Goff.

If not Detroit, Carolina feels like the next most realistic landing spot at No. 6 since the Panthers are unlikely to enter 2022 with Sam Darnold as their best option under center.

Perhaps more likely than that would be a team trading up into a spot between Nos. 6 and 20 to take Willis, especially if a team views him as the clear best signal-caller in the draft.