After grabbing a potential franchise cornerstone left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first mock draft of the season in late January, NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah went in a different direction offensively for the black and gold Tuesday in his second mock draft.
In Jeremiah’s latest mock draft released Tuesday on NFL.com, he pairs the Steelers with Liberty QB Malik Willis at No. 20 overall, meaning the Steelers potentially get their guy at quarterback without a trade up.
Willis comes off the board just two picks after Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett went No. 18 overall to the New Orleans Saints in Jeremiah’s latest mock draft. In fact, Pickett and Willis are the only two quarterbacks to come off the board in the first round of Jeremiah’s mock draft.
“The Steelers are looking to get more dynamic at quarterback and Willis is a special athlete,” Jeremiah writes.
Willis is certainly a special athlete, one that the Steelers haven’t had at the quarterback position since Kordell Stewart in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, he still has a long way to go as a quarterback, much like Stewart did, due to his ball security, decision making and overall mechanics at the position.
Here’s what Steelers Depot’s own Jonathan Heitritter had to say about Willis in his draft profile piece for the site:
“Overall, the athleticism, arm strength, and ability to create out of structure are enticing traits that offenses are desperately searching for. Willis has these traits in spades, but the intangibles that come with the quarterback position in terms of decision making, pocket presence, consistent accuracy down the field, and ability to read defenses while going through route progressions just aren’t there right now to be considered a reliable starting option from a small-school FBS team to facing NFL defenses. Sure, his legs and improvisation skills will help keep plays alive that traditional pocket passers can’t, but his lack of protecting the football and being risk adverse could lead to ample turnovers unless the mental aspect of his catches up to the physical.”
Willis is a guy at the position that you certainly bet on due to his traits, but there has to be a plan in place, specifically from a developmental standpoint, ensuring he doesn’t see the field right away in Year 1. Pittsburgh could be that ideal landing spot, considering Mason Rudolph is already on the depth chart and has experience starting, and Dwayne Haskins is a veteran in his own right, allowing Willis to come in behind two veterans and sit and learn in an NFL system.
The Liberty star continues to be the name to watch for the Steelers, should they decide to go quarterback in the first round. Could he be the name for the Steelers from start to finish in the draft process, much like Najee Harris was last season?