While rumors have swirled surrounding the Detroit Lions’ interest in taking quarterback Malik Willis No. 2 overall the last few weeks, expect that interest to kick into third gear in what was an uber-impressive 72-throw script at Liberty’s Pro Day on Tuesday afternoon.
Head Coach Dan Campbell and company find themselves in a sticky situation with the draft rapidly approaching. Quarterback Jared Goff still has three years left on his contract and with a massive need for talent at other spots, Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson has been the easy connection to make for General Manager Brad Holmes.
However, in the NFL today, either you have a franchise quarterback, or you’re looking for one, and when it comes to Detroit and the boatload of talent wrapped within Willis’ impressive frame, plucking the former Auburn transfer turned Liberty standout off the board at No. 2 is a scenario becoming more and more likely as the days pass.
With a multitude of avenues to go when Detroit finally finds themselves on the clock come the evening of April 28, here are the pros and cons of taking Willis at No. 2 overall if you’re Campbell.
The NFL can’t help itself when it comes to players with athletic ability and when it comes to quarterbacks, players with the potential of Willis don’t tend to last long on draft night. While the level of competition concerns continue to surround Willis and the length of the grace period he’ll need to adjust to the speed and complexities of the NFL, but given his ideal mobility and modern-day skill set, he has ‘face of the franchise’ written all over him.
Willis’ success at the Senior Bowl provided a window into the potential success he could enjoy early in his NFL tenure with like-minded talent around him. The addition of wide receiver D.J. Chark to complement Amon-Ra St. Brown and ball-carrier D’Andre Swift presents a heck of an offensive core. If you insert Willis and his dynamic skillset as a runner into the Lions’ offense, along with the improvement in his touch and consistency shown against some of the country’s premier draft-eligible talent during the pre-draft process, from a 10,000 ft point-of-view, Willis is everything Holmes and Campbell could desire as their potential offensive captain.
Let me take you back to 2012. A top-heavy draft of elite quarterback talent, Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III had every tool in the book to revitalize an organization. He was armed with a bazooka on his shoulder, track speed, ideal maneuverability in the pocket, outstanding processing skills to sit and deliver within the hashes but a division title that season highlighted what was a disappointing career in the nation’s capital.
Now, comparing Willis to Griffin III is fun from a skillset perspective but with a much thicker frame and the body armor to hold up against the physical nature of the pro game, Willis is a vastly different prospect separated by a decade. However, Willis is the biggest boom or bust prospect in this entire class and it isn’t close. The ceiling? Multiple division titles, Pro Bowls, resetting record books, you know, the expectation that comes along with a No. 2 overall pick. The floor? Well, see Griffin III, for example.
The best athletes don’t always make the best football players and while his makeup is something NFL scouts and general managers have raved about throughout the evaluation process, his skillset presents a gargantuan risk for a franchise with a former No.1 overall pick already under contract. For scouts, delivering balls with zip and accuracy is nice to see in a t-shirt and shorts but when it comes to selecting a quarterback – let alone taking one in the top three selections – it takes much more than sandlot throws to sway a draft room.
Film doesn’t lie and while the flashes are evident, the head-scratching appearances against Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette this past season have thrown major caution to the wind for evaluators on whether to bank on the highs or magnify the lows when it comes to turning in Willis’ card.
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