Brace yourselves, Detroit Lions fans. A new quarterback could be coming to the Motor City. And his name is Malik Willis.
Now, before anyone is ready to bite my head off, allow me to explain. As of now, the Lions hold the No. 2 pick and will have the 31st or 32nd pick, pending the Super Bowl results. There is no way I believe the Lions will draft Willis at No. 2, nor should they. Even though Willis is an athletic “freak of nature” with a cannon of an arm, drafting him second overall is too high.
And on the flipside of that coin, he won’t be available at the end of the first round. If anything, he’ll be a Top-15 pick.
So knowing this, I bet you’re wondering why I think the Lions could land this guy. It’s a great question.
My reason for this line of thinking began on Monday afternoon. Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes briefly spoke to a pool of Lions beat reporters at the Mobile Convention Center in Alabama. The entire Lions staff is in Mobile as they’ll be coaching the American team in Saturday’s 2022 Senior Bowl.
While speaking with reporters, Willis is one of the players Holmes mentioned when speaking about players whose adversity he admired. When referencing said adversity, Holmes spoke about Willis transferring from Auburn to Liberty. In two seasons at Auburn, Willis barely saw playing time.
That wasn’t the case at Liberty.
Feb 2, 2022; Mobile, Alabama, USA; American team quarterback Malik Willis of Liberty University (7) runs the ball past American defensive back Alontae Taylor of Tennessee (6) during American practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, USA.
Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
His first season there (2020), Willis passed for 2,260 yards, and 20 touchdowns to six interceptions, while completing 64% of his passes. He rushed for 944 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last season was similar minus the picks. He threw for 2,857 yards, and 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions with a 61% completion rate. And again, his ground game was spectacular. He ran for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Regardless of what school you attend or conference you play in, that’s pretty impressive.
That level of production led to Willis earning an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. On Saturday, he’ll suit up for the American team, which as mentioned, the Lions’ staff is coaching. And they’ve had a very close look at him in their practices.
Besides Brad Holmes, there are two coaches on the staff who’ve vocalized their admiration for Malik Willis. The first coach I heard speak about him while in Mobile was Lions’ head coach Dan Campbell. At the time of his statement, Campbell had only observed Willis in one practice. However, that didn’t stop him from offering praise.
“I think he throws a nice ball. I think he’s pretty athletic,” Campbell told reporters. “He’s a good looking player, [and] he’s built right. Looks like he’s built to last. Shoot, he handled our playbook pretty damn good yesterday [Tuesday]. We had a couple of run checks in there. Defensively, we had a couple of pressure looks I thought he handled.”
The other Lions coach who had high praise for Willis was quarterbacks coach, Mark Brunell.
Justin Rogers of The Detroit News noticed Brunell become very animated with excitement over a play Willis made on Tuesday. Specifically, he progressed through several of his reads, and swung the pass out to the flat.
“It was a new concept,” said Brunell. “He’s basically working left to right, [and] he’s got four guys in the progression. He went from one, two, three, and then four. Actually, there’s five guys in the route. He’s looking to his left, and doesn’t have it. And then progresses to his right and gets the last guy in the progression.”
Feb 2, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; American quarterback Malik Willis of Liberty (7) waves for a football during American practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, USA.
Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
“For a young quarterback, and to have that play, get through that read, and throw a nice ball on a checkdown on that wide route, I was really impressed with that. It was pretty sharp. It was something he had never done before.”
He wrapped up the quote by jokingly saying he credited the Detroit Lions coaching staff, but ultimately said it was more of Wills’ skill than anything else.
Say what you want about Holmes, Campbell, and Brunell’s early praise, but it appears they’re very fond of Malik Wills. Being fair, they only answered the questions reporters asked. If asked about UNC’s Sam Howell, another quarterback linked to the Lions through early mock drafts, they probably would’ve given an in-depth opinion.
Nevertheless, those questions didn’t come up.
As mentioned above, even though the Detroit Lions appear to like what they saw from Willis, they’ve given no inclination on which direction they’re heading with their first round picks.
However, when speaking with the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Thursday morning, Brad Holmes mentioned he’d consider trading out of the second overall pick.
“I’m always open for whatever,” Holmes told Pelissero. “We’re still in the early stages of it. We’ve got a foot feel of the class. We’re at at a much better place at this stage of the process than last, but still, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”
“But I’m never scared to move around, so we’re definitely open for business, always.”
And if that was interesting enough, Holmes’ following remarks on Jared Goff’s future in Detroit were pretty telling.
“Jared knows what he has to do this offseason heading into 2022,” said Holmes. He’s got to show improvement. He finished the season off; the second half well.”
“He battled through some adversity early, but I like how he stayed the course, [and] played some good football late, but he’s got to show up, and do it again, and compete.”
Compete? Compete against who?
With Holmes openly stating he’s not opposed to a trade, dare I say he’s insinuating Goff could be competing for his job against an incoming quarterback they’ll draft? After all, Goff’s contract comes off the books at the end of next season. Idealistically, drafting his successor now would make sense so that by the 2023 season, whomever they draft, whether it’s Willis or someone else, could move into the starting role.
The next few months with the Detroit Lions could become very interesting. With Sheila Ford Hamp taking over, the franchise is undergoing its most significant rebuild. Drafting Malik Willis or any quarterback, in general, makes sense. Whether they do it remains to be seen.
Follow Kory Woods on Twitter at KoryEWoods.