Liberty's Malik Willis believes he should be first QB taken in NFL draft

INDIANAPOLIS -- Liberty's Malik Willis believes he should be the first quarterback off the board in next month's NFL draft. But, he admitted, it's not exactly up to him.

"I don't make those decisions," he said Wednesday morning at the NFL combine.

And then after a beat, Willis dryly added "I hate that for me."

Willis, 22, could become an NFL organization's next franchise quarterback in just a month. That doesn't worry him.

"[Teams] always are going to let you know how big your position is," he said. "I mean, you're the face of the franchise, literally. You're the face of the city. So, you've got to understand everything that comes with that and making sure you're doing all the right things and making sure you're doing your job."

In his 15-minute media interview, Willis exuded confidence through his relaxed demeanor and dry sense of humor.

Asked whom he studied and modeled his game after, Willis cited Michael Vick, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Drew Brees -- but he admitted he didn't used to watch much of the sport he excels at now.

"I didn't even watch football like that until high school." Willis said. "I used to think it was boring."

So when did he stop thinking it was boring?

"When I started getting better at it," he said.

Although he's expected to be one of the first quarterbacks selected because of his mobility and arm strength, Willis is still heavily scrutinized for his inaccuracy. He posted a 61.1 completion percentage in 2021. But Willis isn't fazed by the criticism, some of it similar to the knocks against Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen during his draft process.

"Somebody's always going to think [you're] trash," Willis said. "That's just the way the game goes. It is what it is. I'm going to just keep on going. I'm not playing for their approval.

"The only one I have to prove it to and respect is God. I'm playing for an audience of one, and I don't really care too much what he and she say."

Willis, though, added that he is working on improving his accuracy ahead of April's draft by working on his footwork and lower-body alignment in his throwing motion.

"That's where some of the flaws in my game come from, maybe some inaccuracies," he said. "It's just from footwork. It's not from just being inaccurate. They can just say I can't throw, whatever."

Willis threw for 2,857 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and rushed for 878 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in his second season with Liberty after transferring from Auburn. And he admitted he thought his NFL hopes were over after he left the Tigers. Instead, he flourished in Hugh Freeze's offense, throwing for 2,250 yards, 20 touchdowns and 6 interceptions and 944 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns in 2020.

"I thought I was done," he said. "I thought I was finna go have fun and play my last two or three years, but I'm here now, so I'm happy." Willis isn't running the 40-yard dash or going through other testing and drills at the combine, but he will go through throwing drills, he said Wednesday.

Willis was mocked to the Pittsburgh Steelers, one team he met with in Indianapolis, with the No. 20 pick in Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert declined to talk specifically about Willis on Tuesday, citing a longstanding tradition of not discussing individual prospects.

In some meetings with teams, Willis said he spent time drawing plays, for the team interviewing him and of Liberty's concepts. Something that could be nerve-wracking was natural for Willis.

"I feel real good about explaining [the plays], and I feel real good about my understanding of the game," he said. "... When you're prepared, it's not really stressful. It's not a situation where you feel like you're under pressure. I just feel like I was doing what I was supposed to do."