Though this year's group of quarterback prospects is rather jumbled, Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett and Liberty's Malik Willis seem to represent the two most appealing options as of now. What's interesting is that they also represent the two most divergent options as of now.
And during an interview with the Washington Football Talk podcast at the NFL Combine, one draft expert recommended that the Commanders go with Willis over Pickett if they end up facing that decision next month.
"They have what I like to call high-quality insurance already in place in Taylor Heinicke," ESPN analyst Jordan Reid told JP Finlay and Mitch Tischler in a sitdown in Indianapolis that'll be published in a later podcast episode. "Willis needs to go somewhere where he can sit back and learn the nuances and the details and see somebody who's had success at the next level."
Reid isn't claiming that Heinicke is anything truly special, something he made sure to elaborate on at another point of the interview. However, he respects what Heinicke did in 2021 as Washington's starter and sees him as a solid role model for Willis — a rising rookie whom Reid asserts could really use one.
"Malik's not going to be ready Year 1 just because he's so raw," Reid explained. "I've said this quite a bit, I don't even think he's as far along as Josh Allen was coming out of Wyoming, just to paint a picture of how far away he is right now."
If you're a Commanders fan who, after reading the above five paragraphs, is wondering when the compliments for Willis will begin, that's understandable. So far, the Liberty product has been labeled as someone who needs to "sit back," won't "be ready Year 1" and is "so raw." Not exactly inspiring stuff.
To Reid, though, the appeal of Willis isn't what he's capable of as a rookie; instead, it's what he has the talent to do once he settles into NFL action.
"He's my QB1," Reid said. "If we're talking upside and that player you have no problem paying that second contract to, I think it's Willis."
As for Pickett, Reid views him as a quarterback who could potentially start for a squad to open up his career. Whoever ends up with Willis will likely have to wait for him to grow, which won't be the case with Pickett, he said.
"Kenny Pickett, he's going to be a better player right away. He's 24 years old, he's very mature, he had more assignments as far as at the line of scrimmage, setting protections and just involvement in the passing game... He's going to be the more mature player walking through the door."
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The balance between safer and more immediate production versus more volatile but also perhaps more explosive production is one the Commanders, along with the other clubs who could draft a first-round QB, will have to consider as they evaluate Pickett and Willis.
Plus, Washington could possibly find their answer at the position via a trade or free agency, which the organization seems focused on presently. Should that occur, the need to invest further at the top of the draft may diminish greatly.
But if the Commanders can't acquire the proven star they so badly crave in the next handful of weeks, they'll enter April with the 11th overall pick and the pros and cons of Picket and Willis to debate. Yet as Reid outlined, there really isn't a debate to be had. Willis is the choice, even if he requires patience early on.