2022 NFL Draft: There’s value to take from Malik Willis’ performance in the loss to Ole Miss

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I’m a firm believer — much can be taken from a quarterback prospect in a loss that includes an embarrassingly bad stat line. 

And while watching Malik Willis throw three interceptions and get sacked nine — yes, nine — times against Ole Miss on Saturday, I learned a lot. 

In a contest in which his Liberty Flames were visibly outclassed at essentially every position on the field, Willis never stopped battling and made variety of impact plays. 

Now, altogether, was it an encouraging showing from the uber-talented, uber-enigmatic draft prospect? Of course not. 

It was a first-hand look at how Willis can will his team to positive plays when everything is spiraling downward and it’s at a clear talent disadvantage. And Liberty wideouts had problems separating all game. That will is vital for every NFL quarterback. Because those games will happen in the NFL, and they’re most likely to happen for a young quarterback drafted early in the beginning stages of their pro careers.

Willis’ team lost 27-14 and was down 24-0 midway through the third quarter. And the onslaught of Rebel pass rushers obliterated Liberty’s offensive game from start to finish. 

He finished 16 of 25 for 163 yards and those three picks without a touchdown pass, but did carry the ball 27 times for 71 yards and had a short score on the ground in the second half. One pick was initially ruled a completion then overturned by replay as the receiver and cornerback fought for the ball to the ground. Willis totally didn’t see a deep safety waiting for his sideline throw on the second interception. And the third pick was a desperation heave while scrambling into the end zone with about a minute remaining. 

In college, yards lost on a sack are subtracted from a quarterback’s rushing yards. Willis was a problem on the ground for the Ole Miss defense for basically the entire game. Without the sack yards, Willis rumbled for 118 yards on the ground, and, believe it or not, demonstrated his supreme arm talent on a handful of throws from inside the pocket and particularly when forced outside of the play structure. 

Did he hold the ball too long too often? Ab-so-lutely. But that tends to happen when an athletic prospect like Willis knows — and knows early — his club is severely overmatched. 

Listen, I’m not trying to tell you three picks and nine sacks in one game made me feel better about Willis chances to; go early in the first round or become a successful NFL quarterback. Yet I’ve realized the most valuable on-the-job training for a quarterback prospect is an experience in college in which he faces legitimate adversity and is sometimes, clearly the lesser team. 

And while he made mistakes, Willis got that valuable Willis experience on Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi, and helped keep his team in the game in the second half. 



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