In early February, shortly after the conclusion of the Senior Bowl, a pair of NFL analysts predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers would trade up in the 2022 NFL Draft to grab Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. Fast forward to Liberty University’s Pro Day on March 22, 2022, and rumors about the Steelers wanting to draft Willis are stronger than ever.
“From everything I’ve heard, I think, Mike Tomlin, this is his guy. He really wants him,” said Todd McShay on ESPN’s This Just In, reporting from the indoor practice facility where Willis ran through more than 70 scripted throws on Tuesday.
Certainly, the Steelers are doing their due diligence on Willis. For one, Tomlin went out to dinner with the prospective first-round pick on Monday night, as per Brooke Pryor of ESPN.
It was an experience that Willis subsequently spoke about when addressing the media on Tuesday.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert Both Attended Malik Willis’ Pro Day
The Steelers—who are the only team in NFL history to have picked a Liberty player in the first round—went on to have a significant presence at the school’s Pro Day.
In fact, Tomlin was one of only two head coaches in attendance, according to ESPN staff writer David Newton, with the other being Matt Rhule of the Carolina Panthers, who own the No. 6 overall selection in the draft.
Meanwhile, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was one of just three G.M.’s on hand, with the others being Atlanta’s Terry Fontenot and Washington’s Marty Hurney.
By all accounts, Willis wowed the NFL coaches and executives with his arm strength.
Willis also celebrated the following off-schedule throw with the receivers he was working with:
Will Malik Willis Still Be Available When the Steelers Pick at No. 20?
Thus far, there is little consensus about where Willis might be selected in the draft. The aforementioned McShay described opinions as “wide ranging,” before advising that the Detroit Lions are rumored to be interested at No. 2.
“That’s way too rich for me; there are other players that have such higher grades,” said McShay, before noting that Carolina, Atlanta (No. 8) and Seattle (No. 9) are all potential landing spots.
“Then it drops off and you go all the way down to No. 20 with the Steelers,” he concluded, before wondering if the Steelers will have to trade up to get Willis, if he is in fact their preferred target.
For his part, famed draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes the Steelers can and will stand pat and still get Willis. In his Mock Draft 3.0 (published March 22, 2022), he has Mike Tomlin & Co. grabbing Willis at No. 20, with New Orleans making Pitt’s Kenny Pickett the first quarterback off the board at No. 18 overall.
Willis Could Sit and Learn Under Mitch Trubisky & Co.
Indeed the Steelers could be a good landing spot for Malik Willis in the sense that coming out of Liberty, he may not be ready to play right away. That said, he could spend a year sitting and learning behind recently-signed former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky (or whichever quarterback wins the starting job). Then he could take over the reins in 2023, after the Steelers find out that Trubisky isn’t the long-term answer, as predicted by Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus.
Giving Pittsburgh fans pause is that Willis has drawn comparisons to former Steelers quarterback/wide receiver/running back Kordell “slash” Stewart, who starred when he played a mix of all three positions but struggled when he tried to make the transition to full-time starting quarterback.
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