Could drafting Malik Willis help Seattle fill the void left by Russell Wilson?
Malik Willis is perhaps the quarterback prospect with the most unrefined talent in the 2022 NFL Draft. Yet, his natural athletic ability means he could be the perfect replacement for Russell Wilson in Seattle. But will Pete Carroll pull the trigger on the Seahawks rebuild this early?
In trading the Super Bowl-winning quarterback to the Denver Broncos earlier this week, the Seahawks essentially confirmed that the franchise was going to move in a rebuilding direction, enduring a couple of years of pain before hopefully having a roster that is capable of winning once more.
With so many holes in critical positions on offense and defense, it would have been a waste of everyone’s time to keep Wilson in place and refuse him a trade. Wilson needs to be playing on a team that can win now, while Seattle doesn’t need to be paying such a high salary to a QB who can’t drag them to the playoffs singlehandedly.
With a relatively thin quarterback class in 2022, at least at the very top end, Seattle now have a choice to make with their ninth overall pick. Do they take a gamble on a quarterback or invest in vital other positions and hope to hit gold at quarterback in the 2023/24 draft? It entirely depends on what kind of rebuild the Seahawks are after.
Is Willis ready to start in the NFL?
Seattle took Drew Lock as part of Wilson's trade to the Broncos, but he won’t be anyone’s first choice to start come Week 1.
Willis showed throughout his collegiate career that he is a quarterback with tremendous physical skills and a cannon of an arm, but there were obvious problems.
After swapping to Liberty from Auburn ahead of the 2020 season, the redshirt junior threw for 47 touchdowns over 23 games across two seasons. However, his completion percentage of 64.2% in 2020 and 61.1 % in 2021 was a cause for concern.
There is a clear discrepancy when comparing that to Trevor Lawrence; the quarterback prospect declared the most NFL-ready since Andrew Luck. The Jacksonville Jaguars starter had completion percentages of 65.2%, 65.8%, and 69.2% in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively. There is obvious work for Willis to do here.
The Senior Bowl allowed him to showcase how much he improved over the two years with Liberty, and he did just that. His playmaking ability is of the highest caliber, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the entire class, irrespective of position, who can run as well as he does.
However, this is partly where the problems start for the 22-year-old. His athleticism is of such a high level that he could use it to get him out of trouble at a collegiate level. He is a dual-threat quarterback, but won’t be able to scamper around with the same ease that he did in college once he's in the NFL. Willis will need to improve his decision-making and ability to find open receivers. Most scouts have Willis down as a year-two starter rather than someone who can make an immediate impact.
Seattle would be an advantageous landing spot for Willis
Russell Wilson was nothing more than an athletic prospect coming out of Wisconsin before the Seattle Seahawks drafted and developed him.
They identified his unique skillset, ran an offense that suited those attributes, and allowed an impregnable defense and generationally talented running back to get the rookie QB through difficult moments.
Seattle knows how to improve a mobile quarterback, and Willis’ arm is even better than Wilson’s was coming out of college. So if he were to be drafted by Pete Carroll with the ninth overall pick, you’d feel it was a rather good fit for him the player’s development.
However, the franchise has now had a taste of success and dominance, and fans have watched divisional rivals in the 49ers and Rams reach the Super Bowl in recent seasons, so the requisite patience may not be there to wait for Willis to improve.
He would immediately come under the pressure of replacing Wilson, and that isn’t the situation you want to put a quarterback who isn’t yet ready into, we’ve seen too many collegiate standouts sink under the glaring pressure of NFL football.
On the flip-side of that coin, Seattle will be playing a relatively low-risk game in selecting Willis. He will have the entirety of his rookie contract to develop, which isn’t a significant drain on cap resources. It will give the Seahawks time to evaluate his progress before a second contract.
What would put the Seahawks off Willis right now?
A lot of Willis’ game-tape is highlight football. He made phenomenal running plays and produced the best he could out of a rather basic offensive scheme at Liberty. However, his pocket movement is sub-par, and he seems to rush throws.
The panic that is prevalent in quarterbacks who can rush can’t be ignored. The level of pass rush at the NFL level is so superior to college football that quarterbacks who panic in the pocket often struggle.
Willis often rushes his throws, with the ball leaving his hand before the intended receiver is in any catching position. His relatively low completion percentages speak to this flaw and will need to improve.
Described by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the most talented quarterback in this class,’ Willis is a player with a much higher ceiling than the floor. The team that drafts the QB prospect will be hoping he can start to improve and shine later on in his career and offer him time to settle, which benefited Patrick Mahomes immensely in Kansas City.
Seattle may not be willing to wait that long, and the boom/bust risk of such a streaky player in a critical position will inevitably worry them. This has become even more of an exciting point following the news that Deshaun Watson won’t face any criminal charges in his sexual harassment case and could now be considered a tradable asset.
Seattle may not see Willis’ potential upside as high enough to take the risk on him when there are more proven players available.