Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — or so the saying goes.
Safe to say there’s an absolute inferno burning around the buzz of Liberty quarterback Malik Willis and the Pittsburgh Steelers at this point in the draft process.
Willis, who stole the show at the Combine with his demeanor on the podium talking to the media, as well as his on-field workout and off-field act of kindness, is beginning to generate a ton of hype leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, so much so that it’s becoming hard to see a scenario where the Steelers end up landing a quarterback that feels so coveted by one Mike Tomlin.
Was having lunch yesterday and saw one of the Combine guys helping out someone on some hard times…@malikwillis being great even when nobody is watching. How can you not be a fan of this guy? pic.twitter.com/BmFzUM66NU
— Ryan Lacey (@rlacey23) March 3, 2022
However, NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, the son of former Steelers’ offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, believes that the Steelers are the “frontrunner” to select Willis in the 2022 NFL Draft, and puts the Steelers at the highest percentage odds of seven teams.
“Liberty’s Malik Willis, who threw at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine but didn’t participate in other drills, is a well-built, durable quarterback with elite arm talent and skill as a runner, but his tape was very inconsistent this year,” Zierlein writes. “He needs a longer runway for development as a well-rounded quarterback, but his play traits should excite some teams.”
One of those teams that is undoubtedly excited is the Steelers, as GM Kevin Colbert, Tomlin, offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan were all spotted in Mobile for the 2022 Senior Bowl, and all spent a considerable amount of time watching Willis, especially Tomlin in the rain.
Now, the buzz is really building with Willis, who has arguably the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the 2022 draft class and has some impressive traits that teams tend to bet big on, especially at quarterback.
Glory to God 🙏🏾 https://t.co/f2S6C3seLv
— Malik Willis (@malikwillis) March 4, 2022
Betting big is what the Steelers could wind up doing, especially in Colbert’s final season as GM, according to Zierlein.
“Kevin Colbert is set for his final draft as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ general manager, and in a way, he’s never been more free to step up to the plate and swing for the fences,” Zierlein writes. “Ozzie Newsome did just that in his final draft as GM of the Ravens (in 2018), selecting a quarterback in Lamar Jackson with rare run/pass talent who needed additional time for development. The quarterback-needy Steelers are unlikely to get immediate results from this year’s quarterback class regardless of whom they take, but Colbert could see Willis as a talent-rich, dual-threat player capable of making explosive plays and becoming the future face of the franchise.”
Aside from the easy comparisons to the Ravens and the final draft under Ozzie Newsome, Zierlein also pointed to the Steelers’ background drafting a former non-Power 5, small-school dual-threat quarterback years ago, one that needed to be slowly worked into the NFL before being handed the reins.
I’m not sure where Malik Willis’ floor is…but I think his ceiling is outer space. 🚀🚀🚀 pic.twitter.com/WDtiWp2nda
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) March 4, 2022
Granted, Zierlein isn’t comparing Willis to Roethlisberger as a player. Rather, he’s comparing situations, which makes some sense.
“If you go all the way back to Ben Roethlisberger and the start of his career in Pittsburgh, we know he was a great, great quarterback. But he was a big guy from a smaller school who was dual threat capable,” Zierlein said appearing on NFL Network Wednesday. “He could run and extend, he had a great arm and Pittsburgh was able to build around him slowly through the running game and defense before they handed over the reins.
“Malik Willis has a very similar potential profile, and I think the Steelers could potentially pull from their background with Ben.”
Aside from listing the Steelers as the frontrunner to select Willis, Zierlein also identified the likes of the Washington Commanders, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, and Carolina Panthers as the other six teams that could land Willis. Of course, the Commanders, Broncos, Vikings, Saints, Lions, and Panthers all choose ahead of the Steelers.