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How Malik Willis’ rise can shake up the 2022 NFL Draft

So much could change depending on where Willis lands.

We’re just over a month from the NFL Draft, and nobody has any idea what will happen. Sure, that can be said for any draft — but it feels particularly pronounced this year because of one player at the top, or maybe the middle, or hmm ... maybe in the 20s?

Nobody has any idea where Malik Willis will land, but it’s more than that. Nobody can agree on how the Liberty QB even projects at the next level. He’s a bizarre case of having every physical tool you could possibly want in a quarterback, but without the reassuring college resume that makes a team feel comfortable in selecting him. It’s for this reason we saw Willis hover around the late 20s, or even early second round, prior to the Senior Bowl before rising up the board with a strong week, and then rising again at the NFL Scouting Combine. Time and reps made scouts feel more comfortable, but that still doesn’t mean Willis is a guaranteed home run.

Make no mistake, the lacking college resume is really the sticking point here. If Willis put up the same numbers, but in the SEC, there wouldn’t be a discussion about how good he is. He would be the hands-down No. 1 overall pick, and teams would be clamoring to trade up with Jacksonville. Instead we have a solid college season against sub-par competition with below-average talent around him at Liberty. It makes this all a leap of faith, but who’s going to take it?

The Detroit Lions at No. 2

This feels like a possibility, albeit an outside chance. For the Lions to take Willis at No. 2 it would mean ignoring a sure-thing home run for a team that is in dire need of getting a reliable talent upgrade. Still, there’s a lingering possibility he could be the pick.

I’m of the firm belief that the Lions are better than their record showed in 2021. They played teams close with Dan Campbell establishing himself as a young coach to watch. It’s for this reason I’m leaving the door open on Willis to Detroit at No. 2. If you believe your organization is trending in the right direction, and you don’t expect to be picking again in the top-five for a long time, and you really think Willis could be an elite QB — then it’s worth it to take him at No. 2, sit him behind Jared Goff for a year, and feel confident you’ve passed the biggest hurdle to rebuilding a franchise. It’s just smart decision making.

The downside is that the selection will forever be referenced as a major draft bust if you whiff here, especially when the offensive and defensive line talent at the top of the class feels so safe and talented you could be set at a position for a decade.

Three things that could happen if Detroit takes Willis at No. 2:

  1. The top defensive player stays on the board (likely Aidan Hutchinson)
  2. The Texans now take a player they thought would be gone
  3. Defensive backs like Kyle Hamilton, Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr. slide

The Houston Texans at No. 3

Houston seems very comfortable with Davis Mills for now, but Willis is an easy player to fall in love with because of his upside. Like Detroit, I think this is an outside chance, but with the door open.

It’s far less compelling to imagine Willis on the Texans for now, because I think there’s still a ton of work to be done to project this team making noise. The build will be slow, but they have the assets from the Watson trade to pull it off.

For what it’s worth, I think grabbing Willis at No. 3 would be the wrong move for the Texans. Next year is a QB heavy draft, and they have so many upcoming assets that waiting is the right move.

Three things that could happen if Houston takes Willis at No. 3:

  1. The Jets get their pick of DBs
  2. The Giants likely land an elite line talent
  3. One of the “big three” DBs (Hamilton, Gardner, Stingley Jr.) could slide out of the Top 10

A trade to No. 4 or No. 5?

Now this is where things get really interesting. If the Lions and Texans decide the risk is too great, we could see a lot of calls being made at the No. 4 and No. 5 spot. Here you’ve got the Jets and Giants, both with top 10 picks, and needs that don’t support picking this early. Either team could happily slide back and get more resources, while also stocking the shelves for the future.

So who trades up, and why? Well, I think the perception is that it’s difficult to imagine Willis making it past Carolina at No. 6. The Panthers have been QB desperate since Matt Rhule arrived, and they’ve spent a lot of time looking at Willis.

Immediately after Carolina you have the Falcons and Seahawks, both of whom need a quarterback — and then it’s not that far of a drop before you hit the Commanders and Vikings, largely working off stop-gap solutions without a solid future. Any of those four teams could conceivably move up, and hell, the Panthers could be spooked and jump up too — just to solidify their guy.

Three things that could happen if someone trades up:

  1. Carolina could freak out and take Kenny Pickett at No. 6
  2. We could see a run on trades and teams jump up for players sliding
  3. A projected Top 5 pick could now be available at No. 12 or lower

The Carolina Panthers at No. 6

This feels like the foregone conclusion here. We discussed why the Panthers would make a move, and it’s notable that Matt Rhule is at the NFL owners’ meetings talking up Sam Darnold — which sure as hell feels like something you’d do when you don’t want people to know you want a QB in the draft.

Three things that could Carolina takes Willis at No. 6:

  1. A top offensive tackle will be available for a team to trade up
  2. The Texans could look to move up using their assets to jump Seattle for an OT
  3. The Giants become power players to control the back end of the Top 10

What if he makes it to No. 7?

Let’s get really wild now, because it’s here I think we could see a ton of movement. Now you’re looking at a position where Malik Willis is on the board, outside of the top 5 where draft compensation gets ludicrously expensive in a trade, and two QB needy teams at No. 8 and No. 9 lurking.

I think that if Willis is there at No. 7 we could get a feeding frenzy. The Giants could sit and just take him, preparing to part ways with Daniel Jones — or they could just use that as bait for a team to have to give up more in a potential trade. Really, it puts New York in an ideal position.

If Willis lasts to this point I think it’s wholly possible numerous teams come out of the woodwork like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Orleans or even the Texans jumping up again, depending on how much they believe in Willis as a prospect.

That might sound stupid, but consider this: The 49ers moved all the way up to No. 3 a year ago to select Trey Lance with an even more underwhelming resume than Willis’.

No matter what happens from here out, Malik Willis will determine the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, and each team’s decision to either take him, or pass, could shape everything in April.