By Jeremy Hritz
Call it a bit premature. Call it extremely premature. But I’m impatient, and I make no apologies for it. Even though we are only in the middle of the 2021 Steelers season, there is no harm in having an eye to the spring on the NFL Draft, especially the quarterback position. While the team’s first round draft spot is far from solidified, it is a helpful exercise to become familiar with those potential quarterback prospects in 2022, as one of them could land with the Steelers as the signal caller of the future. I believe this is Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, and while Mason Rudolph can give you average production, he is not a franchise quarterback, and his tape speaks for itself.
Today, I take a quick look at Liberty’s Malik Willis, an extremely athletic, strong-armed quarterback with all of the tools necessary for the NFL game.
Name: Malik Willis
Birthdate: May 25, 1999 (22 years old)
40-Yard Dash (estimated): 4.4
Class: Redshirt senior
Willis originally attended Auburn University before transferring to Liberty as a result of backing up Jarrett Stidham and Bo Nix. In his first season as a starter, he lit it up and caught the attention of many NFL scouts. Willis not only showed a laser arm, but also rushing acumen, as he was able to amass 944 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. This pair of elite skills made him a force at the position, and he led Liberty to a 10-1 record, and a 17th overall ranking in the AP poll. Not bad for a smaller D1 school. He also threw for 20 touchdowns and over 2200 yards.
This season, behind an awful offensive line, Willis has still produced, and has nearly exceeded his passing yardage total from last season, though he has thrown 3 more interceptions. He has also rushed for 755 yards and 10 touchdowns, with 2 more games to play.
All of the tools are there for Willis, but he is very raw, with limited experience as the lead signal caller. Along with such inexperience comes many areas for growth such as refining his accuracy, developing his reads and progressions, and prioritizing ball security. These things can be strengthened and enhanced, but you can’t teach speed or arm strength, something he possesses in bunches.
Willis is the type of player you can build an NFL offense around, and while he is not traditional in any sense of the word, he is tremendously mobile, and in the right scheme (Matt Canada‘s?), he could give defenses fits. He will need time to grow and adapt to the NFL game, and if brought along patiently and intentionally, he could be a very good quarterback.
While his lack of experience raises many questions, his talents give him amazing upside.