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NFL Draft

Should Lions Draft Malik Willis If They Get No. 1 Pick?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 21, 2021
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The Detroit Lions (0-6) are currently the leaders in the clubhouse for the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and with doubt surrounding the status of Jared Goff, it’s logical to conclude that quarterback will rank at or near the top of their draft-day wish list.

The 2022 NFL draft has several quality quarterback prospects in its ranks, but none of them have taken a significant step toward being the first player chosen next April. Unlike recent drafts when players like Joe Burrow (‘20), Kyler Murray (‘19), and Baker Mayfield (‘18) used the college football season to seemingly enhance their draft valuation by the week, the expected 2022 quarterback class has been stuck in neutral.

The highest-ranking quarterback on The Draft Network’s updated Top-100 ranking is Liberty’s Malik Willis (No. 19), who as the calendar nears November, appears to have a comfortable lead in the race for QB1. After initially committing to Auburn in 2017, the former 3-star recruit transferred to Liberty in 2019 and took over the Flames’ starting gig in 2020. He appeared in 10 games, threw for 2,250 yards, and totaled 20 touchdowns to six interceptions. He ran for nearly 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns, too.

Willis began the 2021 season with the kind of hype that surrounds potential first-rounders, and for the most part, he’s delivered. He’s completing 66% of his passes and is enjoying another productive season as a runner. He’s hit a bit of a rough patch over the last two games, however, tossing six interceptions to just three touchdowns over that span.

Still, is there any quarterback who can realistically challenge Willis for QB1? And if there isn’t a quarterback who can, then he’s the one realistic option the Lions can consider at No. 1 overall if they’re set on picking a passer.

Willis’ ability to make bucket throws while also presenting problems for defenses with his legs fits the look of modern NFL offenses. And for a Detroit team that’s in the process of rebuilding its wide receiver room, having a quarterback who can do damage on passing plays even when he isn’t targeting a wideout is a net positive.

Willis would also offer the Lions the antithesis of Goff—he has an aggressive, downfield mentality that Goff simply doesn’t possess.

But is Willis good enough to earn the NFL draft’s biggest honor? Is he really worthy of the No. 1 overall pick? 

There’s a lot of football left to be played this college football season and as we’ve seen in years past, players who hit the midseason mark (or just beyond) with high grades can still fall flat on their face by the time draft season rolls around. It doesn’t feel like Willis will have that kind of crash, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where players like Matt Corral or Desmond Ridder are so impressive that they overtake Willis’ dual-threat skill set. It’ll simply come down to the decision-maker in charge of the pick.

Willis should be the best of the bundle of quarterbacks Lions general manager Brad Holmes will have at his disposal next April, if he is, in fact, armed with the first overall pick. Missing on a quarterback in the first round can be a fatal mistake for a general manager, and it’s even worse if that quarterback is the first overall pick. So any questions draft analysts and football media members have about Willis’ game better be answered by the time Holmes and his scouting staff are on the clock.

There will be some buyer-beware with this year’s quarterback class, including Willis. If he hits, he has the kind of talent to bring a team like Detroit from the depths of quarterback purgatory to an exciting offense built around a playmaker behind center.

Unfortunately, he remains a big if.

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