Why the Slide?: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

This series was created in response to questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For these articles, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Throughout the 2022 NFL Draft process, there was a lot of hype about Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. Some draft analysts were projecting Willis as a top-five pick after seeing his powerful arm and running ability at the Senior Bowl. In a draft that was lacking top quarterback prospects, Willis was elevated to being a projected first-rounder. NFL teams, however, were not that high on Willis, and he ended up sliding to the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

WalterFootball spoke to many team sources, and a large number had a backup grade on Willis, which would make him a mid-round caliber prospect. Thus, they did not feel he experienced a true slide. Multiple team sources talked about Willis struggling to see the field and getting blinded by the line in the pocket. They also believed his tape was not that impressive. In 2021, Willis did not produce big results through the air, completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,626 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Playing at Liberty, Willis faced weak competition, yet he was not a dominant passer. One NFL team’s director of player personnel said that they went to watch Willis in person against a team that he should have dominated, but it was an ugly performance. That NFL team was in dire need of a quarterback and passed on Willis repeatedly.

Long story short, Willis slid in the 2022 NFL Draft because he was overrated by the media throughout the draft process. His final season of tape was not impressive, and franchises viewed him as a backup who has a good skill set, but needs a lot of development to become a pro starter – if he is ever able to get there.

The Tennessee Titans ended Willis slide in the third round, which was a good landing spot for him. Willis will not be forced on the field immediately with veteran starter Ryan Tannehill in place. That will give Willis some time to develop behind the scenes. In the long-term view, Tannehill is in his mid-30s and the Titans are feeling some frustration with Tannehill’s limitations and playoff performance. If Willis develops well and shows improvement when he gets some opportunities like the preseason games, he could eventually displace Tannehill as the starting quarterback in Tennessee. This is a great opportunity for Willis, and it will be up to him to see how far he can go with it.

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