Could Liberty QB Malik Willis climb to be the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7). Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7). Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

Malik Willis was quite impressive in his first year as a starter. Does he have what it takes to be the potential top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft? 

I’ve seen a handful of draft prospects who have been mocked with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. For the most part, it’s the same few players who are on the radar prior to the start of the 2021 college football season.

Quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell are the most popular of the group to be mocked with the first overall pick, while Oregon edge rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux is always in the mix as the nation’s top defensive player. Even LSU cornerback Derek Stingly Jr. has been in the discussion.

But what about Malik Willis? The Liberty quarterback drew some national attention in his first year as a starter in 2020 after transferring from Auburn. Despite being from a smaller school from an independent conference, Willis led Liberty to a 10-1 record in his first season at the helm, and fans have to be wondering how much he could elevate his draft stock in 2022.

Could Malik Willis be the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft?

The odds of any one particular player being the top pick are not good. However, the 2022 NFL Draft class isn’t giving off the same vibe as last year. There isn’t a Trevor Lawrence in this draft, so the door is open to much more possibilities.

Because Rattler and Howell are just 20 years old and former top recruits, it’s much more likely that one of them could emerge as the top pick than a small-school player like Willis. However, I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.

Just this past April, Trey Lance became the 3rd overall pick in the draft in a year where he played one bad game before opting out of the 2020 season. In addition, he was doing so at an even smaller school at North Dakota State during a historically deep quarterback class that included prospects like Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields.

Though it’s a long shot at this point, there’s a chance that Malik Willis could climb to the top of teams’ draft boards with a good season. Willis threw just 14 total passes in his first two seasons at Auburn before taking over as the starting quarterback as a junior in 2020 at Liberty. In 10 games, Willis managed 2,250 with 20 passing touchdowns and 6 interceptions, according to Sports Reference.

While his passing numbers seem pedestrian, they don’t tell the whole tale. Willis averaged an impressive 8.5 yards per attempt, and his eyes were continually down the field as he looked to make plays. Additionally, it can’t be understated how important his 14 rushing touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the ground were last year.

Considering that Willis had 34 total touchdowns while throwing just 6 interceptions last year en route to a 10-1 record, this is quite impressive for a quarterback in his first season as a starter. In 2019, before Zach Wilson’s dominant junior season, he had just 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in his second season as a starter. Nobody would have projected the jump he made last year – a jump that ultimately helped him become the second overall pick in the draft.

Malik Willis certainly has some tools to work with. Though he’s listed at just 6’1”, the Liberty quarterback has impressive movement skills within the pocket and the ability to let it rip down the field. He can roll to the sideline and extend the play or take off on a moment’s notice and chew up 20 yards on the ground.

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It’s going to take a very good senior season from Malik Willis to be in consideration for the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Keep an eye on him this year.