It has finally arrived. The 2022 NFL Draft is here as it gets underway Thursday night beginning at 8 p.m. After months of speculation, Malik Willis will finally get the chance to hear his name called, walk across the stage and shake NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand as he will learn his next home.
Still a lot of questions surround where he will land and how early he will be picked. Most experts are still projecting the former Liberty quarterback to be taken at some point in the first round, with many thinking he goes as early as No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions or lasting until late in the first round when the Pittsburgh Steelers select at No. 20. There is also a possibility that all the quarterbacks slide in the draft and Willis isn’t selected until the second round.
The most likely teams to take a shot on Willis include the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, or Pittsburgh Steelers. These teams have had the most buzz in recent weeks surrounding the Liberty product.
“Ultimately, he has created value for himself and he’s going to get an opportunity to be an NFL quarterback,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said earlier this week. “If it’s first round, great, we will celebrate that. If it’s second round, great, and he’s the same way. He handles all that pretty well. He’s going to get a great opportunity and he’s going to help promote our program just like he always has.”
Willis, who is one of 21 prospects that are planning to attend the Draft live in Las Vegas, is being considered by many to possibly be the first quarterback selected in this year’s draft. He is one of only two quarterbacks that will attend the Draft in person, joining Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral. In addition to Willis and Corral, other quarterbacks that could be taken in the first round include Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, and North Carolina’s Sam Howell.
“The guys that are going deep in the playoffs, most of them has guys that can extend plays,” Freeze said of other NFL teams. “I don’t see a guy in the draft that is better at that than Malik. I don’t know of any quarterback that comes out of college that is totally ready, and, certainly, one that has only played two years, but I would bet on his upside every single time.
After starting his college career at Auburn and staying there for two seasons, Willis transferred to Liberty when he sat out the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer requirements at the time. In both 2020 and 2021, Willis threw for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2021, Willis completed 61.1% of his passes for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns, becoming one of the most explosive players in the sport. The 6’0”, 225 pound athlete and native of Atlanta, Georgia, finished his time at Liberty with a 17-6 record as a starting quarterback as he has helped elevate the program alongside Coach Freeze
“It’s another step in this journey of his that we’re going to use to promote Liberty, how can you not,” Freeze explained. “He’s done such a great job representing this place and our program. This is another opportunity Thursday evening where a lot of eyes will be on that Green Room.”
Freeze has coached a long list of NFL players, many that have been taken in the first round, but he has never had a quarterback drafted in the first round. He’s excited about that possibility in what would be a first for one of the better offensive minds in college football.
“You’re excited about the possibility that you’ve got a guy that could be taken in the first round as a quarterback,” he stated.
Liberty has had eight players drafted in the NFL Draft all-time, but only one has been selected earlier than the fourth round. In 1990, tight end Eric Green was taken in the first round with the No. 21 overall selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Several Liberty players have been taken in the 4th round including Kelvin Edwards (1986), Walt Aikens (2014), and Antonio Gandy-Golden (2020). Malik Willis will be able to add his name to that list as early as Thursday night.
“I really have no clue how this shakes out,” Freeze said. “I know who really likes him because I can tell from our conversations, but I don’t know what that means, they obviously have other needs also.”
The first round of the NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. Rounds 2 and 3 will occur on Friday, April 29, starting at 7 p.m. while rounds 4-7 are on Saturday, April 30, beginning at noon. The draft will be broadcast on NFL Network, ABC, and ESPN.