Malik Willis: QB1 Or Work In Progress?


(Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated)


Going into the 2021 College Football season, all eyes are on the future NFL Draft talent. Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler is the consensus QB1 in this year's draft. Many people expect him to be the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Right behind him are a handful of other QB's who are all attempting to dethrone Rattler as the nation's top QB prospect.


One name that has gained much attention is Liberty QB, Malik Willis. Most rankings have him as the 4th to 6th best QB, with some saying he is as high as 2nd. When you look at his highlights and stats, you can see a player who could overtake Rattler for QB1. However, when you fully examine his play, is he worth that kind of hype?

Player Profile

Height

  • 6'1"

Weight

  • 215 lbs

Age

  • 22.3 years old

QBR

  • 78.7 (66th)

40-yard dash (projected)

  • Low- 4.42

  • Middle- 4.52

  • High- 4.6

Player Comparison

  • Jalen Hurts QB Philadelphia Eagles

Stats


Willis spent the first two years of his college career at Auburn. He played in 15 games. In those 15 games, he was 11-14 for 69 yards with one touchdown. He also collected 309 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.


Willis transferred to Liberty and was named the starting QB in 2020 after sitting out 2019 due to NCAA transfer rules. In 2020 he threw for 2,260 yards with a 64.2 completion percentage. He also added 20 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. On the ground, he added 944 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Strengths

If you have seen any Willis highlights you will notice two incredible strengths. His arm strength is exceptional. To add to his arm strength, his athleticism is the best of any player regardless of position in this draft class. Let's take a look at that arm strength first.


Check out this throw he makes. It is an absolute bullet to the receiver. Yes, the receiver did not catch it, but this was a focus on his strength. The pass looks like he is a starting pitcher in the MLB.


This throw shows his arm strength downfield. It even shows you some of his elite athleticism. He is able to avoid multiple tackles and still gets a great throw off. A QB who can make this throw on the run is special. He avoids being tackled and throws a gorgeous pass downfield.



I keep saying his athleticism is next to none. This is probably why he is getting so much attention. He can bail himself out of bad situations with his legs and his arm. He is one of the best pure athletes in this draft class. You can make the argument he is a better running back than most running backs in this class.



Here are two plays he uses his arm strength in one to get an easy touchdown, and in the other, he bails himself out of trouble with his feet. His change of direction is incredible. He keeps his center of gravity so low and moves so flawlessly. When he scrambles it reminds me of a former QB that wore 7 in Atlanta back in the day. If it was not for his athleticism we would not be talking about him.

Weakness

He has one giant weakness. Willis is incredibly inaccurate. Even though he has arm strength, he does not always make the throw. Remember that first video? Throws like that he needs to be able to make.


Watch this throw. His arm strength is so strong that he overthrows this WIDE OPEN receiver. He should be able to make this throw in his sleep. In some ways, his arm strength was his weakness. These are the kind of throws that he should never miss. For Willis, he misses these throws all the time. You don't see that because, for every 3 wide-open throws he misses, he connects on some crazy hospital ball. NFL teams do not want inconsistency like this. Those missed opportunities are the reasons why fan bases turn on their franchise QB.


There has to be a reason for the inaccuracy in his throws. The big reason is his lower half. I know what you are saying "Have you seen him scramble? How is his lower half a weakness?"


When Willis scrambles he is as elite as it comes. When he remains in the pocket, his lower half is all out of sorts.


First, he is off-balanced a lot when in the pocket. He brings his heels together on a lot of throws. There is just no need for that. You will not be able to get an accurate throw-off if your feet are not fully planted.


He made this throw with his feet like this. Even though he still has the strength to make the throw, with his feet under him like this, he is very off-balanced and his accuracy will not be where it should be.


His other area of concern with his footwork involves him throwing from his toes. He has a habit of throwing from his toes when he lets go of the ball. The throws that show off his strength and that he is accurate on, his feet are firmly planted in the ground. When he throws from his toes, his accuracy is all over the place.


His third major weakness with his footwork is crossing his feet when he is in the pocket. There is no reason for it. He sometimes acts like he is throwing from the warning track. He will put all of his weight into the throw that his footwork is so sloppy.


In this play here he crosses his feet and throws from his toes. There is no need for either thing to happen. He has the arm strength to make the throws, but he feels like he needs more. By crossing his feet and throwing from his toes he throws the ball 30 feet into the stands.


His footwork needs to be improved before the end of the season. If an NFL defensive lineman gets a hold of him with his feet crossed, you might as well hand the ball to the defense. In college, he can get away with inaccuracies, but in the NFL that is going to be an interception every single time.

Player Comparison

Jalen Hurts

Philadelphia Eagles

Oklahoma & Alabama

(Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)


Both Hurts and Willis have similar styles of play and stories. Both were transfer students, who went out and were electric at their new schools. I am aware that is not enough for a full comparison, but it helps with the story of both these players. Hurts is a dual-threat QB who relies on his athleticism to bail himself out of tough situations. When he does throw the ball, he makes long throws look super simple. All things that Willis does exceptionally well. Hurts and Willis have very similar builds, with both players being listed at 6'1" and Willis only weighing a few pounds more than Hurts. Even though they may not seem like it, Jalen Hurts and Malik Willis both have similar styles of play.



Overview

His athleticism is the big reason why he is getting so much attention. He has such a strong arm that there is not a throw he can not make. If there is nothing there for him, he can make plays with his legs. Defenses struggle with him because of this. They need to worry about him beating them with his arm and his legs. That can be very valuable for a franchise. Defenses struggle with elite dual-threat QB's because they have to worry about the receivers and the QB running for a first down. When Willis starts to run, defenses start to scramble.


Look at Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens. One of the reasons he is so valuable is because he can beat you with his arm and when he runs he looks like an All-Pro running back. Willis is the same way. When the pocket collages, he can either escape and run for a large gain or make an insane throw on the run.



The reason defenses can avoid full humiliation from him is his accuracy and consistency issues. There is not a throw Willis can not make. If you watch any film on him you will see that. However, his inconsistency with his accuracy is very alarming. This all starts with his lower half in the pocket. He has terrible footwork and his feet are all out of sorts. He needs to clean that up if he wants a shot at an NFL job.


As much as he can rely on his athleticism to bail himself out of trouble, eventually, that is going to catch up to him. The NFL is a different world than college. He is going to need to learn to rely on making the throws in the pocket in order to succeed. If he plays consistently he can easily be QB1. However, his inconsistencies are why he is not a top 5 QB.


When he puts up video game numbers in college against weak opponents it can make him seem better than what he is. However, once he gets to the NFL, those inconsistent throws will cost him games. The bad throws or bad footwork will result in interceptions and fumbles. However, if he can clean up his lower half and still play at a high level, he will be a very solid NFL QB. He just has a long way to go.



Twitter: @AdammackNFL








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