After a phenomenal first season with Liberty, Malik Willis entered this year as a QB1 contender in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Willis’ scouting report reveals an entertaining creator with elite arm talent, showcasing that he has the physical tools to be a star in the NFL. Although his evaluation is as complicated as the class he inhabits, the Liberty QB has endeared himself to NFL teams in the pre-draft process. Could he be the first QB selected?
Malik Willis NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Quarterback
- School: Liberty
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’0 3/8″
- Weight: 220
- Wingspan: 77 3/8″
- Arm: 31 3/4″
- Hand: 9 1/2″
Malik Willis Scouting Report
A dual-threat quarterback with two years of starting experience at the college level, Willis is a dynamic playmaker with both his arm and legs. At 6’1″, he won’t be the tallest quarterback in the class, but the NFL shouldn’t hold that against him. At 215 pounds, he has an excellent build to hold up to the elevated physical rigors at the next level.
That allows Willis to play the game with impressive toughness. That presents itself in multiple ways. He can hang tough in the pocket and take a hit. Furthermore, Willis demonstrates grit as a ball carrier when escaping the pocket. He is challenging to take down in the open field due to his toughness and athletic ability.
Willis possesses exceptional athletic qualities. The Liberty QB is fast, owns an excellent short-area burst, and his change of direction is phenomenal. This allows him to be an entertaining, electric, and effective dual-threat quarterback. Willis is elusive both in and out of the pocket, shows stellar vision as a runner, and is brilliantly creative. He’s comfortably the most dangerous quarterback in terms of mobility in this 2022 NFL Draft class.
Willis also possesses the most impressive arm in this draft class. Where most people have an arm, the Liberty quarterback has a laser-guided missile launcher, a cannon, insert your own metaphor here. He’s capable of launching the ball downfield with relative ease, routinely making throws that leave you flabbergasted.
An exciting athlete with elite arm talent
However, arm talent is more than simply being able to heave the ball 60+ yards. Here, Willis exudes elite capability. He creates impressive velocity with minimal effort. Need a 30-plus-yard strike into a tight window? Willis is your man.
He puts excellent zip on the ball and can throw from multiple arm angles. The Liberty QB combines his excellent athleticism with the ability to throw a beautiful ball on the run, making him extremely dangerous out of the pocket.
In addition to his physical tools, Willis is an on-field leader who attempts to elevate those around him. Off-field, he composes himself well in interview situations and appears to possess high character. His combination of arm talent, elite athleticism, and leadership should make him an alluring prospect in a murky quarterback class.
Although the areas for improvement we’re about to talk about might limit his bid to be the QB1 of the class, his ascension in the pre-draft process could see him selected within the top 10 of the 2022 NFL Draft. For success at the next level, environment will be everything. If Willis lands with a team that accentuates his upside while showing patience to develop him, he can eventually be an excellent playmaker in the NFL.
Areas for improvement
Strong arm, great legs — can’t lose, right? Well, not quite. As entertaining and talented as Willis is, he presents a difficult NFL Draft evaluation for a number of reasons. His scouting report reveals several areas for development, and in some areas, he appeared to regress rather than develop during the 2021 college football season.
Like multiple quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, Willis is a work in progress from a decision-making standpoint. He needs to learn when to take the easy option as a passer. He’s guilty of frequently trying to take the difficult option, maybe as a result of arm-arrogance. He’ll try and thread the ball into receivers when they genuinely aren’t open. It’s an issue compounded by an inability to quickly scan the field, although the Liberty QB showed some impressive progression development during Senior Bowl week.
This decision-making development also extends to pocket management. While it’s worth pointing out that the Liberty offensive line was dreadful this season, Willis is prone to flee a clean pocket to make a play with his legs rather than work through passing options. He needs to be mindful of stepping up in the pocket rather than working backward in it where he puts himself at risk of giving up significant yardage at the next level.
Another area of regression this season was with accuracy. Again, the statistical element of accuracy analysis is hindered by an uninspiring WR group. However, film study shows that Willis is guilty of being high and wide more regularly than you’d like to see from a leading prospect. The Liberty QB needs to improve his accuracy even on simpler, shorter throws.
Willis’ Player Profile
Willis’ road to the 2022 NFL Draft has been as winding as one of his enthralling acts of escapology out of the pocket. Growing up in Atlanta, the young quarterback played his early high school career for Westlake High School. While impressing on the football field, he also showed dual-threat ability as a multi-sport athlete by competing on the baseball diamond.
Dual-threat is explicitly chosen because it is the perfect summation of Willis’ ability on the gridiron. He was equally adept with his arm and his legs at the QB position, earning early interest from Ohio, Ball State, and Georgia State. Despite his skill set, Willis was given the “athlete” designation by scouting services. Furthermore, he was only tabbed as the No. 21 athlete in the 2017 recruiting class as a three-star prospect.
Given the ambiguity associated with the athlete moniker, Willis attended a camp at Virginia Tech to work out as a defensive back. Having impressed during the workout, he accepted an offer from the Hokies in the summer of 2016.
The expectation was he would line up at defensive back, or maybe even at wide receiver. There was a defensive path to the NFL, allowing him to follow in the footsteps of his uncle — James Anderson — who was a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Sensational senior season elevates Willis’ recruiting profile
A transfer before his senior season altered everything. Willis arrived at Roswell High School for his final high school season firmly committed to Virginia Tech. Yet, his astonishing performances earned him far more attention than he’d received early in the recruiting process. Further enhancing his reputation as a dual-threat player, Willis passed for 2,563 yards, rushed for 1,033 yards, and scored 37 total touchdowns.
The young QB led Roswell to the state title game while he was named the Class 7A AJC Offensive Player of the Year. Meanwhile, a late offer from Auburn gave Willis a difficult decision to make. Although he’d committed to Virginia Tech, the opportunity to be a college quarterback was too tempting. Willis rescinded his commitment to the Hokies and announced his decision to sign with the Tigers.
Willis’ college football career
Despite heading into the 2021 college football season as a red-hot QB candidate for the NFL Draft, Willis’ shot to play quarterback at the college level would require patience. Auburn had also landed highly rated JUCO quarterback Jarrett Stidham, and Willis’ opportunities were few and far between in 2017.
However, he did see action in seven games as a true freshman in the SEC. Willis made his debut against Missouri before flashing his unique skill set against Mississippi State. His first college football touchdown came on a 67-yard run in a comprehensive win over the Bulldogs. Three weeks later, he secured his first passing touchdown as the Tigers annihilated Arkansas.
A similar tale emerged for Willis in 2018. In his sophomore season, he saw action in eight games but no significant snaps. He only added another 7 passing attempts and his rushing capability was curtailed compared to the previous season. Despite that, he secured another rushing touchdown in a mid-November matchup against Liberty.
That fixture provided a twist of fate for both Willis and the Flames. With Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood engaged in a battle for the QB1 spot at Auburn for 2019, Willis opted to transfer. Liberty, under new head coach Hugh Freeze, was in the market for a quarterback. It was a perfect match.
Willis transfers to Liberty, sets fire to college football with the Flames
“I love coach Freeze,” Willis enthused as he announced his transfer. “Love his offense, and feel like this is the best place for me to showcase my ability to throw the football.”
Despite the drop-down from the SEC to an Independent FBS school, the Liberty schedule for the disrupted 2020 season would give Willis a platform to show his ability to the world. The dynamic Liberty QB led the Flames to their first-ever wins over ACC opposition by beating Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
Displaying the arm talent he so desperately wanted the world to see, Willis tied the program record with 6 passing touchdowns against Southern Miss. He manufactured two 300-plus-yard passing games while totaling 2,250 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, completing 64.2% of his passes.
On the ground, Willis led all quarterbacks with 944 yards. Meanwhile, his 14 rushing touchdowns were good for seventh in the nation. Not seventh-best among quarterbacks, seventh overall. Willis finished his 2020 season in style in the Cure Bowl win over Coastal Carolina. The heavily-fancied Chanticleers were burned by Willis’ 220-passing-yard, 137-rushing-yard, 4-touchdown performance.
Willis’ NFL Draft ascension
As a result of his 2020 performances, Willis earned early attention in the 2022 NFL Draft class. An elite physical prospect with some evident technical and processing developmental needs, he proposed to be the Joe Burrow or Zach Wilson of this class. Early in the season, the Liberty quarterback appeared to live up to the hype with a succession of sensational performances.
Through his first five games of the year, Willis made outstanding throws look routine. He continued to showcase his dynamic ability as a rusher. He’d contributed 17 total touchdowns with 0 interceptions, including a 6-touchdown outing against Old Dominion. However, after his dominant start, things began to break down for Willis. Over the next eight games, he threw 12 interceptions, including three games with 3 picks. In five of those games, he completed fewer than 60% of his passes.
Despite posting a worse completion percentage and yards per attempt this year, Willis still earned a Senior Bowl invite. His performance in Mobile has helped skyrocket his chances of being the first quarterback selected in Las Vegas. The Liberty QB showcased his alluring skill set in front of NFL eyes. Furthermore, his likable personality shone through with reports of several teams being enamored with his off-field demeanor. Following their exposure to him, the Detroit Lions are a potential landing spot with the second overall pick.
A similar theme has continued throughout the NFL Combine and Liberty Pro Day. During on-field workouts in Indianapolis, there were audible gasps every time Willis wound up for a deep shot. The same can be said for the nationally televised pro day performance. The skill set detailed in his scouting report makes Willis an alluring talent. There’s something more at play here, though. Willis makes football look fun. And football should be fun, right?
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Malik Willis
Positives: Fast-rising signal-caller with tremendous potential. Exceptionally athletic, possesses a major-league arm, and makes a lot of difficult passes. Effective when he is patient. Quickly sets up in the pocket, easily eludes the rush, and picks up yardage with his legs. Powers the ball through the tight spots, drives deep passes, and quickly gets the ball to intended targets.
Has a live arm, keeps his eyes downfield when rolling outside the pocket, and delivers some beautiful passes on occasion. Moves around the pocket to give himself a better view of the field, puts air under deep passes, and gives receivers a chance to come away with the catch. Phenomenal with ball fakes and scans the field looking for the open wideout. Resilient, stays with plays, and works to make something positive happen when everything breaks down around him. Legitimate threat carrying the ball.
Negatives: Often releases the ball off his back foot. Must improve his pass placement on short and intermediate throws. Shows indecision in his game. Struggled against the tough Louisiana defense last season.
Analysis: Willis is the hot name at the quarterback position and has more upside than any signal-caller in this year’s draft. He is an athletic player who flashes brilliance, yet he will need a lot of work on his game before he’s NFL-ready. I tend to believe Willis will be overdrafted, and I fear he will be thrown into an NFL lineup before he’s ready. If the team that selects him is smart enough to ease him in, even if it means sitting Willis for most of the 2022 season, they could have an outstanding starting quarterback for the long term.