Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis may have been one of the five most-hyped prospects ahead of the 2021 season and was largely projected to be the first or second quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft for a period of time.
But there have been a number of red flags in Willis’ game. He started off the season strong as both a runner and a passer, looking like the true dual-threat he was advertised to be, but he began to falter and become inconsistent throwing the ball and never really picked himself back up. Willis had three separate games in which he threw three interceptions this season against less-than-fantastic secondaries that don’t even begin to resemble the type of competition he will face at the NFL level (Ole Miss, ULM, MTSU) and finished the season-closer against Army with a dismal stat line: 52.2% completion percentage, one touchdown, and one interception.
Overall this season, Willis completed 194-of-315 passes (61.6%) for 2,626 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Even if you’re just box score scouting, it’s easy to see that there is room for Willis to grow as a passer and perhaps that he’s not always making the best decision. What does this boil down to?
We know about the raw physical traits—Willis may be the best quarterback and maybe even one of the best overall prospects where mobility, playmaking ability in his own right, and pure arm strength are concerned. But putting all of those things together, even if you are the Houdini of eluding rushers, does not make for an elite quarterback. In fact, just that without consistently accurate passing ability makes for a solid athlete at best and a developmental prospect that should go in the middle rounds of the draft.
But the time period for Willis to make some corrections has not come to a close—in a way it has just now opened. Willis and the Flames are set to play in the Lending Tree Bowl against Eastern Michigan, where Willis has the opportunity to bounce back as a passer and record one more solid performance in that area to add to his resume. Eastern Michigan has allowed an average of roughly 28 points per game this season and more than 430 yards, so Willis has some room to go to work—this does look like a situation where the Flames will come out on top.
Beyond this, Willis is also among the quarterbacks who are headed to the Senior Bowl after CFB’s bowl season is over, something that will give him the opportunity to show he can perform at a high level against different defensive competition and with supporting cast players from all over the country who bring different skill sets to the table.
Between the Lending Tree Bowl and the Senior Bowl though, the theme remains the same. Willis needs to stop trying to play so much hero ball with aggression—whether that’s using his legs when he should have thrown the ball or going for it all down the field when he should have dumped it off and let his receiver get upfield.
At the end of the day, a quarterback should first and foremost be elite at throwing the ball and that is just not something Willis had done to this point on a consistent basis. Showing that he can do that must be his primary focus moving forward.