It didn’t necessarily go according to plan, but Malik Willis is headed to the NFL.
Willis was taken by the Tennessee Titans with the No. 86 overall pick during the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft on Friday.
He was initially projected as a mid-first round pick with potential to go in the top-10, but as the first and second rounds came and went, the former Liberty Flame was left waiting. Immediately after the conclusion of the first round, he took to Twitter, making light of the situation and sending a message of gratitude for the experience:
He continued to engage with fans and maintained a positive outlook through the second round on Friday:
Entering the draft, Willis was generally considered to be the top quarterback available. He posted a solid performance at the combine and seemed to impress scouts both on and off the field – which was why it came as such a surprise when Willis was not only surpassed by Kenny Pickett of Pitt and Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati, but left waiting during the third round of the draft.
It’s no secret that the 2022 NFL Draft doesn’t have nearly the same star power at the quarterback position as recent classes. Pickett was the first quarterback off the board when he was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 20 overall pick. That was the longest quarterbacks have had to wait since 1997, when the San Francisco 49ers took Jim Druckenmiller with the 26th overall pick.
The struggles continued for the 2022 signal callers when Ridder’s selection at No. 74 marked the latest a second quarterback has been called since the 1996 NFL Draft.
Willis spent his first two years at Auburn, where he appeared in 12 games and threw for 69 total yards. After transferring to Liberty and sitting out the 2019 season, Willis had a breakout junior year, throwing for 2,250 yards in 10 games and leading the Flames to a top-25 finish in the polls. He returned for his fourth and final season, passing for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. With Willis at the helm, Liberty posted a 17-6 record across two seasons.
He joins a Titans team that clinched the NFC South and was the No. 1 seed in the NFC this past postseason. The Tennessee offense is currently led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is entering his third year of a four-year contract, the last two of which are voidable.
Willis is only the ninth Liberty Flame to hear his name called in the NFL draft and the second to go in the first three rounds, joining Eric Green who was selected with the 21st pick in 1990. The program only became a member of the FBS in 2018 and is not aligned with any conference. They’re expected to join Conference USA ahead of the 2023 season.