At quarterback in today's NFL, you have to shoot for the moon. Why? Look around at the quarterbacks in this league.
The physical talent at the position has never been more magnificent. Grizzled veterans like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford are noticeably athletic with the supreme arm talent and confidence needed to make any throw, to any level of the field, from any platform. (Tom Brady isn't an arm-talent specimen, but cerebrally, stands alone. No shade thrown.)
Then, there's Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, and Dak Prescott. The latter passer is 28. The rest are all 26 or younger. Every member of that fraternity of young quarterbacks is a brilliant runner/improviser and/or has an arm that propels missiles all over the field every contest.
None of them are perfect, of course. But they have flaw-masking capabilities because of what their legs and arms allow them to do. If you aren't drafting a quarterback in Round 1 with traits similar to the youth movement at the position, you're probably aiming too low.
And Liberty's Malik Willis has those traits. The oh-my-god-that-throw, accelerate-past-the-linebacker, franchise-altering traits prevalent today. While his final season at Liberty wasn't dominant, and, in fact, was shaky enough at times for his draft buzz to considerably calm, he put all his tools on full display in the Flames' bowl game win over Eastern Michigan Saturday night.
He's going in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, probably higher than we all think. Or, at least, he should.
Check this throw late in the first quarter -- from inside the pocket no less. Willis was unable to step into his delivery, but notice how much mustard he was able to put on the pass.
And it was thrown from the far hashmark, all the way across the field, on target. The incoming cornerback had no chance to undercut it. First down, Liberty. Amazing arm-talent demonstration there.
Then, just a few plays later, Willis showcased how his arm strength transfers down the field on a long-ball touchdown. On this one, I would've liked to see him step into the throw instead of fading away from it, but for the sake of this article, his backward-leaning momentum did make for a more dazzling display of how powerful his arm is.
That's 50 yards, in the air, with Willis' body moving in the opposite direction of the throw upon the release of the football. Goodness gracious. Upper-echelon arm talent even by today's loftier standards.
Mahomes, Allen, Herbert and Co. provide their teams with insane play-creation abilities outside of structure. That natural talent is hugely impactful today. In the second quarter, Willis gave a little demonstration of that jaw-dropping off-script work.
Defender incoming from his left, pocket collapsing on the other edge, spins out, then lofts a perfectly placed ball over the cornerback 50 yards in the air for a monster gain.
For as fun as the ad-lib highlights are, we all know pocket-passing mastery is a must. Now, Willis has a ways to go in that regard, but for a classic drop back and rip it "NFL" throw that didn't feature less-than-ideal footwork, take a look at this rifle shot on 4th and 7 midway through the second quarter. Another toss from the far hash to the sideline.
Speaking of a frozen rope, it's important that a quarterback can crank the velocity in the red zone, when windows shrink. It helps too when a passer can fire an accurate laser on the run. Gives the offensive coordinator more of his playbook from which to choose.
And with that, I give you this.
That throw from Willis was reminiscent of a Fernando Tatis Jr. seed to first base. And it needed to be for it to be a completion and a touchdown.
The cherry-on-top luxury at quarterback today is scrambling skill and designed-run ability. More playbook expansion comes with supreme running traits. And Willis absolutely has those.
He made this 35-yard touchdown run look too easy.
Willis finished his final season at Liberty completing 61.1% of his throws at a respectable 8.42 yards per attempt with 27 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and 13 scores on the ground. Despite being sacked 51 times (!) he still averaged 4.5 yards per rush when sack-yards lost count against a quarterback's rushing total in college.
He had three-interception outings against Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee State. He also threw three-plus touchdowns five times.
As evidenced in the bowl-game victory over Eastern Michigan, Willis clearly has the sky-is-the-limit abilities for teams aiming for astronomical upside at quarterback in the draft.