Updated: Feb 10
By Adam Aniba
Coming into the 2021 college season, opinions and expectations for the 2022 QB draft class have varied. One particular Heisman hopeful, Malik Willis has created buzz as the potential first quarterback that could be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.
6'1" 225 lbs | QB | Liberty Univ
Draft Proj Top 25
Career Stats (AUB 12 games) *Passing- 11/14 69 yds 1 td *Rushing- 28 att 309 yds 2 tds
*(LU 23 games) *Passing- 310/475 5,176 yds 48 tds & 18 ints
*Rushing- 267 att 2,131 yds 29 tds
2021 (13 games) *Passing- 140/210 1,986 yds 21 tds & 12 ints
*Rushing- 126 att 878 yds 13 tds
Willis grew up in Atlanta, Ga where he attended Westlake HS, but transferred to Roswell HS in Roswell, GA for his senior year. Willis impressed a number of college scouts while at Roswell HS, particularly schools in the SEC. Willis finished his senior season throwing for 2,562 yards and ran for another 1,033 yards totaling 37 tds.
The three-star prospect would ultimately commit to Auburn University for the 2017 & 2018 seasons. He played in 15 games, only attempting 14 passes for 69 yds, but rushed for 309 yards with 2 tds.
Willis transferred to Liberty University from Auburn at the conclusion of the 2018 season. He seemed to regard Liberty HC Hugh Freeze as an innovative offensive mind and a perfect match for his skill set. Willis was familiar with the former Ole Miss HC, based on his time in the SEC. Per NCAA transfer guidelines, Willis was forced to sit out the entire '19 season, despite his waiver request.
Under Liberty HC Hugh Freeze, Willis' strengths as a dynamic athlete have been accentuated. Freeze utilizes an up-tempo scheme that features a heavy load of Zone Read, RPO and Spread concepts. Willis lead Liberty to 10 wins in his first season under Freeze, finishing the season ranked in the Top 25 in the Coaches' Poll and AP Poll.
Through 9 games, Malik Willis has played like a top 10 draft prospect, as the nation's most impressive dual-threat quarterbacks. In two seasons, the Liberty University QB has 64 total td's with 3 regular season games remaining.
Willis' passer rating is up from 155.8 in '20 to 173.4 this season, which is key for a potential franchise quarterback. Although clearly the best athlete in this years draft class, Willis has displayed his ascension as passer and game manager, who can single handedly take over games.
Willis' ability as a dual-threat signal caller, in conjunction with his ability to evade pressure, brings to mind another polarizing quarterback. In this case, I'm referring to former Va Tech signal caller Michael Vick. Comparing Willis to the former 2001,1st overall pick, might seem like high praise, but the mechanics and running style are uncanny.
For comparison, Vick was of course was heralded for his scrambling ability, rushed for 1,299 17 tds in 5 more games played than WIllis (1,628 yds 23 tds ).
Impressive Arm Strength
Possesses impressive quick twitch ability, which helps him to rapidly process & diagnose in game situations
Extremely quick and elusive
Displays impressive anticipation, in particular with throws on the run
Dynamic when going off script
Ability to evade pressure/break tackles is second to none in college football
Extremely accurate on slants & back shoulder throws
Elite field general, who effectively & consistently communicates with his teammates
Very difficult to contain in hurry up/tempo situations, especially when he gets out on the edge as a passer and run threat
Bad habit of throwing off back foot
Elongated throwing motion that can negatively affect timing with his receivers
Overall mechanics need refinement
Lowering his shoulder, when scrambling won't fly in the NFL
Has displayed some accuracy issues when rolling out the his left
Needs to take some heat of his short/intermediate throws
Tendency to hold onto the ball, rather than throwing it away
Needs to embrace the short game and take what the defense gives him
The 2020 draft featured another dual threat signal caller in Trey Lance, who also played in what's considered lower level competition at North Dakota State. Lance saw his draft stock continue to rise, going from a top 20 prospect to getting selected #3 overall by the 49'ers. With many NFL teams still in their search for a franchise quarterback or moving on from their veteran signal caller, Willis' skill set should be appealing.
Willis will be heavily scrutinized throughout the draft process, with the "dual threat" label and the knock that he's not a traditional pocket passer. The level of competition he faced will also be a concern for teams concerned with his transition to the pro level. GM's will ponder if they're getting the next Michael Vick or a developmental quarterback, that shined against lower level competition.
With an ever-changing NFL, heavily leaning more and more on college offensive concepts, Willis' upside as a runner, but more importantly as a passer, should make him extremely desirable for quarterback needy teams.
*Games Watched- 11/4/21 vs Campbell, 9/11 vs Troy, 9/8 vs ODU, 9/24 vs Syracuse, 9/2 vs UAB, 10/9 vs M.Tenn, 10/16 vs LA-Monroe, 10/23 vs N.Texas and
10/30 vs UMass
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**Stats updated after season**