2022 NFL Draft: Malik Willis could thrive in the right system

LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Malik Willis #7 of the Liberty Flames drops back to pass against the Old Dominion Monarchs at Williams Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Malik Willis #7 of the Liberty Flames drops back to pass against the Old Dominion Monarchs at Williams Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

We are entering week 12 of the college football season this weekend, and we still don’t have a consensus QB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft. This year’s quarterback class is extremely unique because no prospect has consistently played at an elite level, and few have shown the potential to be franchise quarterbacks in the NFL.

A couple of quarterbacks have made compelling arguments to be the best quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft. Liberty’s Malik Willis is one of those quarterbacks, and he has arguably the most intriguing skillset out of any gunslinger in the class. His combination of strengths and weaknesses makes him incredibly unique and makes it challenging to become a star quarterback in the NFL. Nevertheless, he has a ton of talent and could thrive in the right system.

Here are his strengths and weaknesses as well as the offensive system his team will need to implement for him to reach his potential at the next level.

Malik Willis’s physical tools and arm strength make him an intriguing prospect

Malik Willis‘s two biggest strengths are his physical tools and ability to throw deep down the field.

His athleticism is historically good, and according to The Athletic, he ran a 4.37 forty-yard dash during his sophomore season at Auburn. Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III are the only quarterbacks in the history of the NFL combine to run a sub-4.40 forty-yard dash. Willis may join them as one of the fastest quarterbacks in league history when he tests at the scouting combine next March.

His rushing ability is incredible, and through ten games this season, he has rushed for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last year he was even more impressive as a runner, rushing for 944 yards and 14 touchdowns in the same number of games.

He is arguably the most dynamic rushing quarterback in the class. Through week 11, he leads all non-running backs in yards after contact per rush with a mark of 5.20, and he’s tied for eighth in breakaway run rate with a mark of 25.4%.

Willis and Malik Cunningham are the only quarterbacks in the top 10 in yards after contact who have an overall PFF grade of at least 90. This shows how dynamic of a quarterback Willis is.

Malik Willis’s arm strength is phenomenal, and his right arm functions more like a high-powered rocket launcher than a regular human arm. This allows him to make unbelievable throws into tight windows deep down the field. Speaking of throwing the ball down the field, this is Willis’ best quality as a passer.

He is one of the best deep-ball throwers in the 2022 NFL Draft, and he currently ranks third in the country in PFF’s passing grade on throws 20+ yards down the field with a grade of 96.5. He has a big-time throw rate of 45.3% on these throws, which ranks first in the nation.

Here are Willis’s PFF deep ball passing grades by direction:

Deep Left: 95.1

Deep Center: 86.4

Deep Right: 95

As you can see, he is an elite deep-ball thrower and arguably the best in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Malik Willis has two severe flaws that raise serious concerns

Willis has two flaws that raise some concerns: he isn’t effective throwing to the intermediate parts of the field, and he struggles under pressure.

This season, he has a PFF passing grade of 55.9 on all throws between 10 and 19 yards down the field, which is extremely concerning. To add insult to injury, he has a turnover-worthy play rate of 9.7% on these throws. That is the ninth-worst turnover-worthy play rate among quarterbacks with at least 45 intermediate pass attempts.

To be fair, his overall passing grade on intermediate throws is heavily affected by his 29.4 passing grade on intermediate throws to the right side of the field. However, he isn’t an impressive intermediate passer in any direction, sporting a passing grade around 73 on intermediate passes to the right and the center of the field.

He also struggles to throw the ball under pressure, sporting a 52.3 passing grade on 103 pressured dropbacks. When he has a clean pocket, he has an adjusted completion percentage of 75.6%. When the pocket collapses, and he’s pressured, his adjusted completion percentage falls to 63%.

A quarterback needs to perform under pressure because they aren’t always going to have a clean pocket. Unfortunately, this is something Willis struggles with at the moment.

Malik Willis has the skill set to thrive in the right system

Despite these flaws, which may limit his floor as an NFL quarterback, Willis has a skill set that could flourish in the right system. His team’s offensive system needs to mimic the Seattle Seahawks offense for him to be successful at the next level.

This season, the Seahawks have emphasized limiting throws to the middle of the field because that is where turnovers are most likely to occur. Rather than targeting the middle of the field, the Seahawks throw a ton of short passes and try to take the top off the defense whenever the opportunity arises.

Over the last couple of years, NBA teams have changed how they approach the game offensively to maximize their efficiency. The way they do this is by limiting their mid-range attempts and shooting primarily threes and layups. This helps them generate efficient offense.

Here’s Russell Wilson’s passing chart from week one of the 2021 NFL season. As you can see, the Seahawks are running an offense with similar principles to modern NBA offenses. They’re limiting their throws to the middle of the field while primarily throwing short and deep passes.

This is a system that Willis could thrive in. Since he isn’t great under pressure and struggles to throw intermediate passes, whoever drafts him should implement a system that utilizes designed quarterback runs, quick short passes, and a plethora of deep bombs.

Malik Willis’ unique skill set makes him one of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft. He has a ton of talent, but his weaknesses as a passer put a cap on how good he can be in the NFL. Nevertheless, he has a skill set that could allow him to succeed in an offensive system that relies on “Moneyball” principles to generate efficient offense.