It’s a projection, and the size (6-foot 1/2, 219 pounds) isn’t ideal, but Willis’ cannon arm, running ability and overall playmaking skills give him the nod here over Kenny Pickett. “There’s really one guy that’s got true NFL traits,” an AFC quarterbacks coach said. “[Willis] can run. He can throw it. It’s a once-every-couple-years type of arm – it’s not quite Josh Allen I don’t think, but it’s damn close. He can create plays. For a 6-foot-tall guy, he doesn’t look small, because [he has a thick build]. Good person. Smart. He’s an energy-giving type of guy. “
Said an AFC general manager: “To me, he’s the No. 1 guy in the class. And for whatever people want to talk about in terms of readiness or all this other stuff – it was the same thing with Josh Allen, it was The same thing with Patrick Mahomes. I think people are a little short-sighted with that kid. ” A transfer from Auburn, Willis made the most of his two seasons starting for the Flames, putting up 6,929 total offensive yards (sixth in FBS) and accounting for 74 total touchdowns (47 passing, 27 rushing). “He’s the only one with the talent level that deserves [to go Round 1]”an NFC coordinator said.” Now, there’s some holes in his game. [But] To me, he’s a better prospect than Trey Lance was a year ago and a better prospect than Justin Fields was a year ago. “Other scouts and coaches echoed the comparisons to Lance and Fields, who went No. 3 overall to San Francisco and No. 11 to Chicago, respectively – they were the third and fourth QBs taken in that draft, both after trades up involving future first-round picks.
“If I had to take a quarterback this year,” an AFC coordinator said, “I would take Willis, because at least he’s got the talent to get himself out of a jam when things don’t look pretty.” No doubt, there will be a learning curve for Willis, who, like many in this class, played in a college offense that doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth from the QB. Much of his production comes off go-balls and scramble drills. And Willis’ athletic ability gave him an out many times against a lower level of competition. (Liberty is an FBS independent.)
“He can unleash power (with his lower body). He’s got a great arm,” said an NFC quarterbacks coach. “But when you watch him play, I don’t see a lot of the things we would ask him to do. He’s played two top-25 programs in the last two years: One was Coastal Carolina, which he beat, and Ole Miss. , which he lost to. Against those two teams, he had zero touchdown passes, he had five touchdown runs, and threw five picks. That concerns me. [But] he’s got this bounce in his step, he’s got this smile. Hey, this kid can be electric, and when he is electric, the dudes in the locker room are going to go to him. This is the epitome of a boom-or-bust pick. “Willis finished his college career as a 62.8 percent passer for 5,176 yards, 48 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, including 12 last season.” Malik is obviously super talented, “an NFC scout said. said. “I just have issues with his processing and the instincts. He knows his O-line’s bad, but he still just stands there. He’s not feeling [rushers] coming up on him and really escaping and getting the ball downfield. There’s flash plays. There’s a lot of bad stuff. He’s definitely a project, and anybody taking him really high is going to have to fully commit to that. “
There were some questions during the process about the circumstances around Willis’ departure from Auburn in 2019. But the answers teams heard from the school and Willis himself were pretty straightforward: His preparation wasn’t good enough, and he simply got beat out by true Freshman Bo Nix (who has since transferred himself, to Oregon). “You visit with him, he owned it, he’s accountable,” an AFC scout said. “It was good to hear him talk about his growth. It sounded like he became a better worker, a leader, more committed to the process, preparing, studying. He’s got a likeable personality when you meet him – very easygoing, laidback, confident, some charisma to him. People gravitate to him. He gives off a little bit of [naivete], maybe a little bit too loose. What you’re wondering [is]can he be a little bit more focused and locked in like a franchise quarterback? “Willis didn’t participate in any pre-draft timing or testing. But he helped himself at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. sessions at the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day. He’s one of the cleanest prospects, medically, in this draft. His interviews with teams have won over a lot of people, too.
“Willis is such a fun personality. He’s a cool kid, talking to him,” said another NFC coach. “And I think he can learn. He’s a smart kid.” It seems like a long shot, but speculation has increased in league circles this week that Willis could go as high as No. 2 overall to the Lions, who coached him at the Senior Bowl and had him in for a visit Tuesday. “If there’s any of them that you’re going to look back and say he turned into a really difference-making player at the position, the one guy that has a chance to do that is probably the Liberty guy. But there’s also a chance. that he just doesn’t develop as a passer the way he’s going to need to and he flames out, “said another AFC coach. “He’s got a wide range of ways that his career could go. But he’s a guy that you see some special plays on tape with, stuff you can’t coach – off-schedule production, extending the play. He’s an outstanding runner. He’ll be a top-five runner, maybe a top-three runner at the position from Day 1. And then he’s got all the arm in the world. It’s just going to be about whether he can hone that in and learn to play the way a team’s going to need him to play in the pass game, just in terms of decision-making and playing fast. “