Every year quarterbacks shine at their NFL Pro Day, but let’s be honest how can they fail when it’s set up to make them look as good as possible in front of as many eyes as possible. Liberty quarterback Malik Willis’ pro day was no different on Tuesday.
The strong-armed athletic specimen put his talents on display in front of a pro-day record 60 coaches, executives and player personnel officials from around the league. And in typical pro day fashion, the former Auburn Tiger shined.
Of the 60 various NFL personnel members who made the trek to Lynchburg, Virginia, reportedly only two were head coaches: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, who both are entering the 2022 season with quarterbacks considered in the lower rung of NFL signal callers.
— Malik Willis (@malikwillis) March 23, 2022
Panthers Insider Joe Person said:
“Matt Rhule and Mike Tomlin were the only head coaches at Malik Willis’ pro day. Four teams had their GMs/senior execs (Carolina, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Washington). Three offensive coordinators that I saw, (Pittsburgh, Carolina and Washington).”
Willis made some great throws and flexed his elite arm talent on a throw that traveled 70 yards through the air after he faked as if evading a pass rush and launched it across his body.
The throw received a ton of “oohs and ahhs.”
In a scripted, glorified seven-on-seven session, reportedly only one ball hit the ground. That’s not unusual at a pro day.
Tomlin Searching For A Successor To Ben Roethlisberger
Mike Tomlin arrived in southern Virginia on Monday after watching Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett put on a good show in his pro day. He had dinner with Willis on Monday night, and The Athletic reporter Joe Person described how the young signal caller seemed to be bemused by Tomlin’s down-to-earth nature during their meeting:
“He was eating chicken wings. He’s like a normal dude.”
Willis Projected To Steelers: 20th Pick
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Willis going 20th to the Steelers. Kiper also said the order in which Willis, Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral will be chosen is still up in the air. Kiper gives Pickett the nod for his experience (49 starts and 24 years old), but admits that Willis has the highest ceiling.
“Trubisky could only be a bridge to Willis, who is raw but supremely talented … he is the most talented quarterback in the class,” Kiper said.
Willis’ Rise To Visibility Came After He Transferred And Matured
Willis arrived at Liberty after being told by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn that he was no longer in the QB competition in 2019. Malzahn cited laziness and entitlement as factors for his decision. Willis knew he was right and decided a fresh start would help with that.
“Malzahn didn’t have to tell me,” Willis tells NFL.com. “I knew. I was so immature. I had just played really well in the spring game, but I learned the hard way that the spring games doesn’t matter. I decided after that that I had to be better, but I needed to find somewhere else to play and find someone to help me get where I needed to go.”
Enter Hugh Freeze, a reclamation project himself after a scandal involving calls to escort services led to his departure from Ole Miss.
Willis’ rise to prominence began during the 2020 season and continued into 2021. His play in head coach Hugh Freeze’s up-tempo spread offense was dynamic. Willis was allowed to express his dual-threat creativity and newfound focus, combining for 40 total touchdowns (27 passing and 13 rushing) in 2021. He’ll need some real NFL coaching to tighten up his mechanics and footwork at the pro level. But he’s got a lot of folks who like his upside.