By Dylan MacKinnon
One of the names getting the most hype as we approach the draft is Liberty’s, Malik Willis. If he turned heads at the combine, he spun them right around at his pro day. It is easy to fall in love both with his powerful arm, and his affable personality. But can he play QB at the NFL level, and should the Eagles take a shot at him on draft night? Let’s get to know this year’s potential QB1 a bit better.
Jalen Hurts With an Arm
What are the things we love about Jalen Hurts? Hurts is a threat to break out a big run on every snap. His athleticism is hard to match in a QB. He is loved by his teammates and a textbook definition of a leader. And he is a genuinely good dude that you want as the face of your franchise. The one downside, his arm has yet to be especially impressive.
Well, think of Malik Willis as Jalen Hurts, but with a powerful arm. Willis is just as dangerous on the ground. He had 27 rushing TDS in two years at Liberty, to go with 1,822 yards. And when he’s not running, he could often be seen making miraculous escapes from pressure to extend a play. He declined to run the 40 at both the combine and his pro day, but make no mistake, he is fast. Willis was clocked hitting speeds of over 20mph throughout the year.
Willis’s QB Coach and Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin had this to say about his athleticism.
“We’re talking about a quarterback that’s 220 pounds. I don’t know what you know he runs but if he’s not the fastest guy on the field, he’s probably the second-fastest player, and he’s not just a straight-line guy. He’s a super twitchy athlete who has unbelievable natural playmaking ability with great vision as a runner.”- Kent Austin
What he can do, that we have not seen from Hurts though, is he can boom the ball down the field. Willis has the potential to throw the ball nearly anywhere on the field. Many of the coaches he faced in college raved about how impressive his arm is. NC State Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson said Willis’s arm is the most impressive he has seen since Patrick Mahomes.
“Watching him on film, I was scared to death. He has a really, really strong arm and a very quick release. One of the games he threw a ball like 75 yards and it was right on the money.”- Tony Gibson
And he was not the only defensive coordinator blown away by Willis’s arm. Here is what Coastal Carolina’s D Coordinator Chad Staggs had to say.
“We couldn’t tackle him. He’s got a cannon. From a true physical ability thing, he was special. I was watching pregame, and I’m like, ‘Holy crap!’ He’s throwing deep out to the field and stuff. I’m thinking, ‘Uh-oh!’ He throws an amazing tight spiral. I mean, it comes out of his hand and it pops.”- Chad Staggs
Malik Willis possesses both the ability to break the game open with his legs that Hurts does, but also the ability to do it with his arm. He is by no means perfect, and we will get to the flaws with his game in a bit, but there is no doubting his arm. Pairing his deep ball with Devonta Smith would lead to many deep TDs. Here is a small collection of him showing off his big arm in actual games, and not just in shorts at a workout.
Last night, I found my early favorite for QB1 in the 2022 #NFLDraft: Liberty’s Malik Willis.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) February 28, 2021
He has a nice arm with great deep ball placement and thrives out of structure. He’s also an insane athlete with legit 4.4 speed. Remember his name — he’s a stud. pic.twitter.com/2JitmQ7uAC
A Guy You Want To Coach
The other similarity Malik Willis has with Jalen Hurts is that he is the exact type of person you want under center. Not just in terms of leadership and Football smarts, but in the sense he seems to be a genuinely good dude. While many players were going viral at the combine for impressive performances, Willis also went viral for this moment of humanity.
And from what I understand, this is not some one off thing he did to make himself look good. Others have pointed how acts of charity are typical from Willis. And it seems he didn’t even intend for it to be noticed. Someone just so happened to see it, and capture it for the world to see.
But you can be a kind and caring person and still not be a good leader or easily coached. Thankfully he is those things at well. His coaches gush about Willis’s desire to constantly improve.
“He just needed to work on a few fundamental flaws but the thing that’s great about Malik is he’s unbelievably coachable. He’s a really humble guy. He wants to be great and because of his God-given ability, he’s going to work at refining that and being able to take you to know those changes consistently into a football game.”- Kent Austin
Additionally, his affable personality and sense of humor have stood out in his pre-draft interviews. From the outside looking in, Willis just screams likable. Smart, funny, hard working, he is everything you want personality wise in a franchise cornerstone. Of course none of us have met him, so we have to take other people’s word. But from what those other people say, I see no reason to doubt Willis is just a great guy.
Area For Improvement
Malik Willis’s arm might be live, but his accuracy needs some work. This issue stems from inconsistent mechanics. Too often he drops an elbow, or doesn’t set his feet. This results in missed throws, and at times too many interceptions. 12 interceptions in 13 games does not seem too awful. But he had three separate games with three interceptions. On the flip side, he also had 8 games with 0 interceptions. This suggests he has it in him to be accurate and make smart throws. But there are times where his mechanics get away from him and he gets sloppy.
And there are times he shows off his arm too much. There is such a thing of a ball thrown too hard. Willis would do well to occasionally take a little off to give his receivers a more catchable ball. There is a time in place for the bullet pass, but if it is all you throw there is going to be a lot of drops.
These are issues fixable with repetition and good coaching. You can teach someone to have better mechanics. Especially when they are as Coachable as Willis is. What you can’t teach is his ability to run, or his powerful arm. Those are innate abilities you either have, or you do not. These flaws are certainly something to consider. Patience with his mechanics and mistakes he may make will be vital if you draft him. But the reward may be worth that risk.
What Draft Experts Say
“Upside quarterback with special parts of his game, but with no guarantee they will be assembled properly into a finished product. Willis uses his rare combination of elite rushing talent and a rocket-launching right arm to unlock explosive plays in two different ways. He has the arm to beat safeties to the deepest parts of the field and makes impressive throws from inside and outside the pocket. On the flip side, Willis’ mechanical and operational inconsistencies lead to erratic timing and accuracy, and he doesn’t throw with enough touch. Protection and receiver separation were both issues, but Willis also pressed over the second half of the season and never looked comfortable in the Liberty offense.”
“Malik Willis has a long way to go in his development, but his arm strength, athleticism and competitiveness create a unique foundation to build on. He needs time to clean up the areas mentioned above, but his impact as a runner will be felt as soon as he steps foot on the field. He’s borderline unstoppable on designed QB runs in the red zone. He can pick up those tough yards on QB draws, sweeps or zone reads. He can use his speed to capture the edge or use his strength to run through tackles or carry defenders for several yards.”
This is a true high ceiling, low floor type of prospect. Malik Willis could be a truly phenomenal QB if he can get his mechanics issue straightened out. But even if that does happen, it will take time. Any team that takes Willis will have to be patient. There is so much potential, but he comes into the NFL a incomplete player. He has the arm, and certainly has the legs. But the decision making and accuracy need work.
Willis is pretty much Jalen Hurts with arm strength right now. He is going to wow teams with his ability to run. But unlike Hurts he can also wow with the deep ball. But similar to Hurts, he will also have issues with getting through his reads, and making the right pass at the right time. If the Eagles take him, they are going to need to coach him up. It would be a risky move. But one that could pay off in a huge way if they take him on draft night. Knowing Howie Roseman, he may not be able to resist.