Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Targets: Malik Willis

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For all of Brian's 2022 Steelers' Draft Targets, click here: Steelers' 2022 Draft Targets

With the NFL draft set to begin on Thursday, April 28th, I thought now would be a good time to start taking a look at some of the players the Pittsburgh Steelers should be looking to select with their first round pick.  Currently drafting with the 20th pick, it is always difficult to speculate who will still be available when the Steelers are officially on the clock.  However, over the next few weeks, I'll dive into several players at various positions that could still be on the board, the Steelers may trade up for, and/or would greatly help the team.

For a number of reasons, the first player I wanted to take a look at is quarterback Malik Willis from Liberty University.  The main reason is the need to fill the void left from long-time quarterback Ben Roethsliberger's retirement.  

Now I first must mention that they did just go out and sign quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who likely will be the starting quarterback in Week 1, regardless of whether they draft a quarterback or not.  While I've expressed my excitement in signing him, there is still no guarantee Trubisky is the guy to follow in Roethlisberger's footsteps.  It's been a while since Trubisky was a starting quarterback in the NFL and there is a fairly large range of outcomes on what type of quarterback he could be returning in that role.  Therefore, it is certainly still possible that the Steelers use their first round pick on a quarterback.

It hasn't been a well-kept secret how invested the Steelers have been in scouting quarterbacks this offseason.  They've visited all three top quarterbacks on the board during their respective college's pro days:  Willis, Pitt's own Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral from Ole Miss.  Of the three, there's been a lot of buzz around how much the Steelers like Willis and everything he brings to the table.  And it's no surprise as to why.  In his two years as a starter at Liberty, Willis amassed 5,117 passing yards, 47 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.  He also ran for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Coach Mike Tomlin has said numerous times how the Steelers would like to add some mobility at the quarterback position.  While Trubisky does bring a bit of that to the table, Willis fits that criteria much better.  However, it isn't just his legs that are wowing onlookers.  

A video from Liberty's pro day went viral of Willis launching a ball 65 yards downfield, seemingly with ease.  While we all love Ben Roethlisberger, the two things the quarterback position lacked this past season was mobility and downfield arm strength.  Willis would solve both of those issues and fit right in on an offense with great pieces already in place around him.  He's a dynamic playmaker in the most important position on the field, and by the looks of it, he has the ability to turn around a franchise with both his arm and his legs.

So the main issue with the Steelers selecting Willis is his availability in the draft.  While quarterbacks have shifted teams all across the league during the offseason, there are still a few teams out there that don't have a long-term quarterback in place - namely the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons.  Both of those franchises select before the Steelers.  

Not to mention, the chance that any other team could be looking to move on from their quarterback in the near future, such as the Detroit Lions or New York Giants.  The buzz that Willis garnered from the Senior Bowl and his pro day has only added teams to the list with their eyes squarely on him.

Now, with how much the Steelers have been rumored to love him and be involved with him, we can't rule out the possibility of them trading up in the draft to select Willis.  A report from the New York Post came out stating that the Steelers would consider a trade if their preferred quarterback fell to 10th or lower in the draft.  

Based off of everything currently in the media, you have to imagine that that "preferred quarterback" is, in fact, Willis.  With the success they had in drafting Roethlisberger in the first round, it would figure they will go to almost any lengths to trade up for Willis if he's still available.  The real question would be, if he's set to be selected before the 10th pick, do the Steelers give up significant assets to trade up even further and get him?  My guess would be no since they already have Trubisky, but with how much the Steelers seem to be enamored by Willis, I certainly can't rule it out.

So how does selecting Malik Willis affect the Steelers at quarterback going forward?  With Trubisky under contract for two years, you have two years where Willis could be in waiting while getting acclimated to the NFL.  There's absolute no rush to throw him into the fire, which is a huge luxury to have.  

Too often, rookie quarterbacks are asked to start right out of the gate and more often than not, it ends poorly for both the player and the team.  With Trubisky already in place to start, this will give Willis ample opportunity to get up to speed with the NFL.  Liberty University isn't playing the top-tier teams throughout college football, so this would allow him time to become acclimated with the difficulty that comes in reading pro-style defenses.  

At the beginning of the offseason, I would have said that the Steelers had far more pressing needs than quarterback, especially in a draft that isn't loaded with talent at the quarterback position.  However, they have been extremely active in free agency and addressed a lot of those needs.  I'm still not sure that a quarterback in the first round is the way to go, but as time goes on, I keep liking what I'm seeing out of Willis and I've started talking myself into the Steelers selecting him.  

I wouldn't go as far as to trade way up and give up any significant assets for him, especially considering that I think Trubisky can be a serviceable quarterback in Pittsburgh.  However, based off of everything I've seen and read, the Steelers seem to be awestruck with his talents.  Ultimately, it will come down to what lengths they will go to ensure Malik Willis is in Black and Gold after Day 1 of the NFL Draft.

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