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Malik Willis breakdown: Room for growth, but plenty of starting QB traits exist already.

Everyone likes to say Malik Willis would need a redshirt year once he enters the NFL, but is that really true? Those comments have been overstated.

NCAA Football: LendingTree Bowl-Eastern Michigan at Liberty Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Willis, QB, Redshirt Junior

School: Liberty

Height / Weight: 6’1” / 219 lbs

Hand size: 9.5”

Arm Length: 31 3/4

Wing Span: 77 3/8”

Projected Draft Status: Round 1

Player Overview

Willis is a redshirt junior who’s played in 35 career games in four years. His first two collegiate seasons were at Auburn University, where he appeared in 12 games. After two seasons with Auburn, Willis transferred to the Liberty Flames after losing the quarterback competition in 2019. He displayed a lack of interest in studying defenses or the nuances of Auburn’s offense in the eyes of his Auburn coaches. In search of a fresh start and the realization that he needed to be a better student of the game, Willis transferred to the Liberty Flames in 2019 but had to sit out before becoming eligible in 2020.

Willis played for Head Coach Hugh Freeze and Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin during his two years with the Flames. Freeze utilizes a run-pass option-based offense, reliant upon the decision-making of the quarterback, who has the power to run it, hand it off, or pass it on a given play.

Willis is an elite athlete with below-average height and weight for his position. However, he has an elite change of direction, elite balance, very good explosion, very good agility, very good quickness, and an athletic build and strong frame.

College Stats

Willis passed for 5,176 yards, 48 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. As a rusher, Willis ran for 2,131 yards and 29 touchdowns. He threw for 69 yards and one touchdown for the Tigers and threw for 5,107 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions for the Flames. He rushed for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers and rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns for the Flames.

The Flames averaged 255 passing yards per game (45th), 180 rushing yards per game (46th), and averaged 33 points per game (70th).

Injuries

2017 - None

2018 - None

2020 - Left elbow injury (Week two versus FIU, missed week three versus North Alabama.)

2021 - Left foot injury (Week eight versus North Texas, did not miss time.); Tongue (Week 10 versus Ole Miss, did not miss time)

Strengths

Context: October 2, 2021, 7 pm est, on the road versus UAB. 1st and 10 at Liberty’s 17 yard-line.

Analysis: Willis displays very good velocity and very good accuracy on a downfield throw from the opposite hash versus cover 1. He displays a good, quick release and good ball mechanics at the top of his dropback. Willis also shows good mental processing to identify the coverage and recognize the window he has with his receiver. In turn, he showcases very good arm strength to get the ball there with little effort and the accuracy to hit his receiver in stride for a gain of 70 yards.

Context: September 24, 2021, 7 pm est, on the road versus Syracuse. 2nd and 10 at Liberty’s 49-yard line.

Analysis: As the play quickly breaks down, Willis’s mental processing, athletic ability, and competitive toughness come into play. He displays good awareness in sensing the free rusher on his blind side and the balance and lower body strength to withstand a tackle attempt by the blitzing defender. From an athletic standpoint, Willis displays his agility, change of direction, speed, and acceleration all in this play.

Context: September 24, 2021, 7 pm est, on the road versus Syracuse. 1st and 10 at Liberty’s 17 yard-line.

Analysis: Willis wins versus cover 2 zone. He was able to show display good mental processing in his ability to anticipate where his receiver will be and where the ball needs to go versus this zone coverage. Willis then displays good accuracy and touch to hit his receiver in the zone’s “honey hole” (soft area of the coverage) from the pocket.

Context: November 6, 2021, noon est, on the road versus Ole Miss. 2nd and 10 at Liberty’s 41-yard line.

Analysis: Willis displayed good mental processing in his ability to find a receiver beyond his initial read. He had very good setup quickness after finding his receiver over the middle and had the necessary arm strength to deliver the ball to him quickly.

Weaknesses

Context: November 6, 2021, noon est, on the road versus Ole Miss. 2nd and 7 at Ole Miss 30.

Analysis: While his athletic ability is on display here to keep the play alive by escaping a would-be sack, Willis lacks the mental awareness to accept that the play is over. Second and seven become third and long as a result.

Context: November 6, 2021, noon est, on the road versus Ole Miss. 3rd and 10 at Ole Miss 12-yard line.

Analysis: Willis displays marginal mental processing here in his inability to recognize the coverage pre-snap and the advantage that his receiver in motion would have due to a cover 1 man look by the Rebels. The missed read results in an eight-yard sack, followed by a missed field goal.

Context: November 20, 2021, 4 pm est. Home versus ULL. 3rd and 10 inside Liberty’s 20-yard line.

Analysis: This play is another example of not knowing when a play is dead. Willis’s competitive toughness shows itself in a variety of ways; this is an example of how it hurts him. He displays marginal mental processing and competitive toughness in a situation where the Flames cannot afford a turnover.

Context: November 6, 2021, noon est, on the road versus Ole Miss. 2nd and 10 at Ole Miss’s 25-yard line.

Analysis: Willis displayed poor mental processing in diagnosing the Rebel’s defensive coverage. Facing cover 2-man, He goes through the play progression; however, he does not identify where the safeties were on the play and “bird-dogged” (declares to the defense the target he intends to throw to) the throw to the defense wheel route.

Context: September 24, 2021, 7 pm est, on the road versus Syracuse. 3rd and 10 at Liberty’s 25 yard-line.

Analysis: Willis displays marginal mental processing and competitive toughness, resulting in an avoidable sack. On third down, he loses composure in the pocket and escapes it too soon, and is unable to recover and find the deep dig coming across the field from the receiver at the bottom of the screen. Secondly, once the play is dead due to a missed read, he holds on to the ball beyond the point of throwing it away.

Scheme Fit

Willis will be successful in a run-heavy, RPO offense heavily reliant upon his playmaking ability and throwing success on play-action.

Projection

Willis is a starting level quarterback that you will win with (and eventually will win because of) in a run-heavy, RPO offense heavily reliant upon his playmaking ability and throwing success on play-action. This is due to his elite athleticism, outstanding functional strength from the quarterback position, and good accuracy throwing to receivers on all levels of the field.

As a passer, Willis displays good, versatile setup quickness. This is because he has a variety of throw releases, based on situations, to make throws from multiple throwing points or when adjusting to pressure. Willis also can withstand pressure in the pocket, displaying the poise to make the necessary throws to score or extend drives.

Willis shows the ability to work through progressions and locate receivers beyond his initial read. Willis displays solid timing and anticipation that will allow him to be successful in the NFL. He has elite arm strength and can make every prototypical NFL throw, including flys, fades, curls, deep outs, and is comfortable throwing them from the pocket or opposite hash into tight windows.

While Willis has good accuracy on all levels, he is most accurate on short and intermediate throws and will be able to win consistently in the NFL if asked to make these throws.

As a scrambler, Willis has elite escapability due to his athletic ability. In turn, He creates playmaking opportunities for an offense when the play breaks down or if he needs to extend the play beyond its initial structure.

As a rusher, Willis’s decision-making and vision are elite. When needed to set up his blocking, he displays patience and has the acceleration and explosion to pick up yards in short down and distance situations. His strong frame allows him to withstand hits from defenders of all sizes, and he also has the balance and lower body strength to shed multiple tackles on a given run. He fights for every yard as a rusher and has an elite competitive trait.

Willis will struggle as a passer early on. He displays marginal footwork in the pocket and struggles to climb the pocket effectively. From a processing level, he shows an adequate understanding of coverages; he will choose to scramble outside of the pocket, giving up on play progressions quickly versus letting a play develop as intended. Throwing windows will close as a result.

Willis is a competitor; however, his competitive nature can get the offense behind the sticks if defenses successfully generate pressure. This is because he relies on his athletic ability and arm strength to get him out of trouble to save a play, or make a play, instead of throwing the ball away. This will show itself the most during critical situations, as he takes unnecessary sacks or commits a turnover.

Willis will need to improve his touch on short and intermediate-level throws as he moves to the next level, or his effectiveness and impact on games will decrease from a passer standpoint.

Conclusion: Willis is a polarizing player for apparent reasons; many people - fans and analysts alike - are concerned with his ability to process the game of football at an NFL level. However, while those concerns are fair in concept, Willis already displays elite traits coming into the NFL that will help smooth over his transition to the pro game. He will be able to compete immediately, despite the growing pains that he’ll go through. For Washington, Willis is a viable option in the draft and should be looked at as a golden opportunity for offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who can mold Willis into a top-tier quarterback, given Willis’s proven desire to become a better student of the game.

Games watched: Liberty vs. Syracuse, September 24, 2021; Liberty vs. UAB, October 2, 2021; Liberty vs. North Texas, October 23, 2021; Liberty vs. Ole Miss, November 6, 2021; Louisiana Layfeyette vs. Liberty, November 20, 2021.

See the whole film breakdown of Malik Willis here:

What is your take on Willis’s NFL projection?

Poll

Can Willis work in Washington?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Yes; day one starter
    (163 votes)
  • 37%
    Yes; will need a redshirt season though
    (239 votes)
  • 18%
    It depends
    (114 votes)
  • 10%
    No; not a good fit
    (65 votes)
  • 8%
    No; I don’t see him working in the NFL
    (52 votes)
633 votes total Vote Now