Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze is like the rest of us. He knows the NFL, including Pittsburgh, likes QB Malik Willis. But he doesn’t know what will happen on draft day. Freeze joined Rich Eisen on The Rich Eisen Show Wednesday to talk about his former quarterback’s NFL future, mentioning a handful of teams who have been most interested in him while admitting he doesn’t have a clue where Willis will land.
“I had a lot of first-rounders when I was at Ole Miss and I kind of had an idea [where they’d go]” he told Eisen. “I have no clue on this one. I know the teams that have spent an enormous amount of time visiting with me. Whether it’s Carolina or Pittsburgh or Atlanta.”
Those appear to be the three teams who spoke with Freeze prior to Liberty’s Pro Day last month. For the Steelers, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Brandon Hunt, and others were on-hand to watch Willis’ impressive workout. Tomlin dined with Willis the night before. Willis has checked every box the team has when it comes to first-round picks, but Pittsburgh has cast a wide net in the position, showing equal interest in the likes of Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett.
Freeze went on to say he thinks the Steelers like Willis’ makeup.
“Oh yeah, love Pittsburgh. Love Tomlin. What a great guy he is. I like him a lot. Again, can’t really tell. I think they like Malik a lot.”
Carolina, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh have been the three teams most often mentioned in the same breath as quarterbacks. The Panthers are desperately seeking a long-term answer after striking out on name after name during free agency. Atlanta is starting over following Matt Ryan’s trade while Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement has the Steelers searching for a new franchise arm for the first time in 18 years. But there are other teams doing their homework on Willis, too.
“Seahawks have spent a lot of time with us, but it’s hard for me to keep up – we’re in the middle of spring practice – with all the free agency and who’s taking quarterbacks and who’s not, and when they’re gonna take them. And I called [Willis] last night and he told me where his rotation was of where he was all going to visit, which none really surprised me. Philadelphia has called here recently. I talked to them a lot last night. And I don’t think Malik, I asked him, ‘man, do you really have [any idea]? He said, ‘I have no clue coach.’ And it’s kind of difficult for me to judge. They’re holding their cards pretty well.”
Willis himself is a polarizing prospect with upside and “wow” plays. But he’s just a two-year starter coming from a smaller school (though his college career began at Auburn before transferring), and most draftniks believe he’ll have to sit out for most – if not all – his rookie year while he learns the nuances of the game.
Freeze, fans, and the NFL will find out on April 28th, Day 1 of the NFL Draft. The draft is full of questions, and none are bigger than the fate of Willis and the other top quarterbacks in this jumbled, messy class.
Check out the whole interview with Freeze below.