As the quarterback position constantly evolves, the quest to find the next dynamic playmaker for the NFL continues apace. In recent years we’ve seen Joe Burrow and Zach Wilson emerge from relative obscurity to electrify the college football landscape. After a sensational season for Liberty last year, will Malik Willis be the next QB to make a similar leap ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft? He’s earned significant attention through the offseason, but does Willis’ scouting report confirm or temper the hype around the Flames phenom?
Malik Willis NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Quarterback
- School: Liberty
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’1″
- Weight: 215 pounds
Malik Willis Scouting Report
A dual-threat quarterback with one year of starting experience at the college level, Willis is a dynamic playmaker with both his arm and his 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.
In addition to his ability as a runner, Willis comes equipped with a cannon for an arm. He’s shown that he can get the ball to all areas of the field. Additionally, he puts tremendous zip on the ball to fire into tight windows. Willis can throw the ball from multiple arm angles and is impressive throwing on the run.
Areas for improvement
Strong arm, great legs — can’t lose, right? Well, not quite. As entertaining and talented as Willis is, there are some areas for improvement.
Willis will need to improve decision-making significantly if he is to crack the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. His tape is littered with ill-advised throws, ranging from attempting to zip the ball into too-tight windows to balls thrown into double coverage. Questionable decision-making is also evident in his manipulation of the pocket. Willis took too many unnecessary sacks last year, while at other times, he escaped the pocket before allowing a potential passing play to develop fully.
For all his arm strength, accuracy is another area for improvement. There were many examples of overthrows, underthrows, and throws that landed wide of the mark. Some of these misses were on short passes with little to no pressure on either Willis or his receiver.
Although Willis only threw 6 interceptions last season, there were ball security issues. He suffered several fumbles during the season due to failure to secure the ball properly on the move. This was an area that improved during the season. However, he will need to continue to develop his running style to ensure he secures the ball with consistency.
Consistency is a great word to surmise Willis’ scouting report. The Liberty QB has the tools to be an excellent 2022 NFL Draft prospect, but he needs to be more consistent in all aspects of his game.
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, 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 quarterback 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 21st 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 being 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 been firmly 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.
“I had to do what’s right for me and my family,” he told Rivals.com. “This is closer for them, and it gives me a chance to play a position that I love. It was important that I got a shot at least because I feel like I can play quarterback at the next level.”
Willis’ college football career
Despite heading into the 2021 college football season as a red-hot quarterback candidate for the NFL Draft, Willis’ shot to play QB 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.
Willis transfers to Liberty, sets fire to college football with the Flames
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.
“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 win over ACC opposition as they beat 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.
Willis’ enthralling ability to create plays with his legs is what set him apart
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 quarterback, seventh overall, beating out high-profile running backs.
Willis finished his 2020 season in style in the Cure Bowl win over Coastal Carolina. The heavily-fancied Chanticleers were burned by Willis and the Flames as the Liberty QB earned Cure Bowl MVP honors. He finished the night (and the season) with a 220-passing-yard, 137-rushing-yard, and 4-touchdown performance.
His impressive outings and enthralling play style make Willis an intriguing 2022 NFL Draft prospect. The Liberty QB has plenty of tools that translate to the next level, but he still has some areas for improvement. Is Willis a first-round talent? Not yet. Could he be a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft? Absolutely.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.