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The Case For Malik Willis As a Future Franchise Quarterback

The Case For Malik Willis As a Future Franchise Quarterback

After a strong showing at the senior bowl, Malik Willis is firmly in the mix to be the first quarterback off the board. He’s got a strong arm, quick release, is an elite playmaker out of structure, and reportedly has high level intangibles. He may be the best rushing quarterback we’ve seen come into the league since Lamar Jackson.

When factoring out sacks, Willis finished with 500 fewer rushing yards in his final season than Jackson but had over 40 more missed tackles forced and only 1 fumble. He also had 50 runs of 15+ yards, compared to 63 for Jackson and 20 fewer first downs. Willis finished with the highest rushing grade ever for a quarterback at 94.5, per PFF, while Jackson still posted an elite number at 86.8. All in all, they’re very similar as rushers and will likely have comparable levels of success at the next level. 

The blueprint for Malik Willis to be successful is Lamar Jackson’s role with Baltimore. If the team that drafts Willis is truly committed to maximizing his development, they’ll build around him in the same way the Ravens did with Jackson.

Get him a strong offensive line and rushing threats that put pressure on the defense. Willis would also likely thrive with someone who can stretch the field while he’s busy extending plays with his legs. In order for Willis to reach his ceiling as a passer, he’s going to need a better offensive line than the one he played with at Liberty.

It was clear when watching Willis that he didn’t trust the protection in front of him, and that he became very obvious to see when he faced higher competition. In a game this past season against Ole Miss, Willis was pressured 22 times on just 47 dropbacks and was sacked 5 times. In the four games against power 5 opponents over the last two seasons, Willis’ offensive line has an average pass blocking grade of 62.5 and has allowed 43 pressure and 10 sacks.

The thing that gets many excited about Willis’ future is that he has more potential as a passer than most rush-first quarterbacks. Willis is very good at extending plays outside the pocket, and his above the line arm strength allows him to make throws that others can’t. Willis had an excellent big time throw percentage of 11.0%, which was 4% higher than every other quarterback coming out this year. While Willis is relatively inaccurate at this stage, he has the foundation to be a strong pocket passer in addition to all that he brings to the table as a rusher.  

As we’ve seen in the past, accuracy may be something we overthink when it comes to high ceiling quarterback prospects. Josh Allen’s accuracy was heavily criticized coming out of Wyoming, but he eventually developed and turned into an elite pocket passer. Even Deshaun Watson, who had massive questions about his accuracy and decision making coming out, turned himself into an elite pocket guy with high level accuracy. The most notorious example of this is Patrick Mahomes, whose accuracy posed some red flags at Texas Tech. It took Mahomes all of one year to figure it out. This may not be the new norm, but that trend is telling.

It has been proven that you do not need to be as refined in the pocket in order to have success in the NFL if you have a certain level of athleticism. It is not easy to do so, but it is possible. The best way to subsidize inconsistent accuracy is by having an outstanding trait somewhere else in your game. Jackson and Jalen Hurts have elite rushing ability that can make up up for inconsistency as a passer  to a certain extent, and it’s likely that Willis follows the same path.