Could Liberty QB Malik Willis be the wire-to-wire draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season? It’s starting to certainly feel that way.
The infatuation with Willis from the Steelers’ standpoint — and from the perspective of this writer, full disclosure — is starting to gain more and more attention. Of course, there was the shot of Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert chatting with Willis and his family after a practice at the Senior Bowl in Mobile a few weeks ago. Then there was the photo of Tomlin standing in the pouring rain watching Willis and the other quarterbacks throw in Mobile.
Reports of the Steelers’ love of Willis quickly came out of Mobile, with NBC Sports Edge’s Sr. Content Creator CFB/NFLDraft Thor Nystrom calling it the “worst kept secret” and others stating that Willis to Pittsburgh feels like a sure bet in the 2022 NFL Draft.
On Wednesday, Pro Football Network NFL Draft expert Tony Pauline, who is well-respected around the league and within the draftnik community, added more fuel to the burning fire that is the Willis/Pittsburgh combination. Appearing on 93.7 The Fan’s afternoon show with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller, Pauline said that he knows the Steelers “absolutely like” Willis, and even went a step further, comparing the non-Power 5 QB with great athleticism and a rocket arm to another former QB the Steelers gambled on years ago in the NFL Draft.
“I know the Steelers absolutely like him,” Pauline said to Fillipponi and Mueller. “A lot of the traits they saw in Ben Roethlisberger. The arm strength, the athleticism, the ability to make plays in or out of the pocket.”
Now, comparing Willis to a young Roethlisberger is wholly unfair, as Roethlisberger was much more polished coming out than Willis and was right there in the discussion for QB1 with the likes of Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Add in the fact that Willis is four inches shorter and 35-40 pounds lighter than Roethlisberger and it’s truly hard to see the comparison.
However, the two share some traits, including the strong right arm that both possess, as well as Willis’s ability to make defenders miss in the pocket avoiding sacks, extending plays and making things happen as a runner when the play breaks down, which is a lot of what Roethlisberger did playing his backyard style early on in his NFL career coming out of Miami (Ohio).
At this point in the Tomlin/Colbert pairing, the Steelers simply don’t care to send mixed signals or try and throw other teams off with smokescreens regarding who they like. The fact that they’ve appeared to zero in on guys like Willis and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett at this point is pretty telling. How it all unfolds in late April in the first round is anyone’s guess, though.