The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
It's the start of the third season in the Ron Rivera era, and the Washington Commanders have a pristine opportunity to strengthen their roster.
In his first season as Washington's head coach, Rivera took Chase Young, who became the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, with the No. 2 overall pick. The next season, he drafted Jamin Davis with the No. 19 overall pick, and the former Kentucky Wildcat showed promise in his first season.
Now, the Commanders have the No. 11 overall pick, and analysts are predicting them to go with a plethora of positions, from linebacker to safety and quarterback, at that spot.
In anticipation for that selection, Commanders.com will highlight one mock draft from a draft expert each week and delve into how that player would fit with Washington. Here are the players covered in previous weeks:
Next up is Liberty's Malik Willis.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
With head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew saying they will explore all options to find the right quarterback for the 2022 season, the position will likely remain a popular pick for analysts in their mock drafts for the next two months.
In fact, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Commanders as the first team to take a quarterback off the board in his latest mock draft, and he's pairing them with Willis.
"You might be surprised that it's Willis, but you really shouldn't be," Kiper wrote. "He was in the QB1 mix all fall before he faded a little bit in the last stretch of the regular season. The more tape I watch of his past two seasons and the more I talk to evaluators in the league, the more I like him."
Willis, a three-star recruit from Roswell, Georgia, was originally a member of the Auburn Tigers playing for Gus Malzahn. His snaps were limited, mostly because the Tigers already had a starter in Jarett Stidham. Willis also had some self-admitted issues with film study, which led to Malzahn informing him he would not be considered in a quarterback competition after Stidham left for the NFL.
So, Willis transferred to Liberty, and while he did have to sit out for the 2019 season because of a now-defunct transfer rule, he was not idle. He dropped 22 pounds to lower his body fat percentage and added back 12 pounds of muscle. He worked on his footwork and throwing motion as well as his passes in the 18-22 yard range.
By the time he was able to return to the field, he was ready to be Liberty's starter.
"He's so athletic, when he moved in the pocket, he covered more ground than other quarterbacks. A jump-cut up for Malik would cover half a yard to a yard more ground than you want, and then the (interior) pressure would be in his face," said Liberty offensive coordinator Kent Austin.
In his first season with the Flames, Willis led his team to a 10-1 record, highlighted by a 6-0 home stand, and defeated Coastal Carolina in the FBS Mortgage Cure Bowl. He completed 64.2% of his passes for 2,260 yards, but his ability as a runner added another dimension to the offense. He carried the ball 141 times for 944 yards, including his 168-yard and three touchdown performance in his first start against Western Kentucky.
"We did a lot of rhythm slide stuff so he could be a little more efficient with those movements, and take those steps with less exaggeration," Austin said.
And when it comes to his ability as a passer, Willis' high school coach, John Ford, said "There isn't a throw that's not in his bag."
"We had a corner route on one side and a corner post on the other, and Malik stayed in pocket, bouncing his feet looking him off, and just waited and waited for the safety to break for the corner," Ford said. "Then he fires an absolute missile to the corner post. It was no rainbow. It never got more than 15 yards off the ground."
The Flames didn't have as successful of a season in 2021, but they did finish 8-5 while Willis accounted for more than 3,700 total yards and 40 total touchdowns.
There was a noticeable uptick in competition on Liberty's schedule, including Ole Miss. The Flames fell 27-14 in that particular matchup, but he did account for 299 total yards and a touchdown.
By the time he was finished with his college career, Willis had 5,112 passing yards, 2,263 rushing yards, 74 total touchdowns and a 91.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
"Willis was one of the stars of Senior Bowl practices," wrote PFF's Anthony Traesh. "His physical tools are off the charts. Between his mobility and cannon of an arm, he captured the attention of talent evaluators on multiple occasions. Willis did miss a few throws early on, but he rallied and ended up one of the more accurate quarterbacks of the week."
This week, Willis will be in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine to show off his skillset with the rest of this year's quarterback class. It'll be a chance for him to separate himself from the other signal-callers, but to Kiper, he's already done that.
"Put simply, Willis is the most talented quarterback in this class."