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Increasing belief Detroit Lions could draft quarterback Malik Willis with No. 2 pick, evaluating potential fit

Matt Johnson
Detroit Lions, Malik Willis
Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are confident quarterback Jared Goff can be a serviceable starter in 2022. Holding the No. 2 overall pick, the franchise might still be considering drafting Malik Willis as its franchise quarterback.

Willis, a star at Liberty, entered the pre-draft process as a potential top-20 pick competing with Kenny Pickett to be the consensus top quarterback on draft boards. After making a strong impression on coaches and general managers at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day, the 22-year-old started rising up draft boards.

Related: Kenny Pickett visits Detroit Lions, evaluating potential fit

The 6-foot quarterback met with Lions’ coaches at the team facility on the final day for clubs to conduct pre-draft visits. It added fuel to growing speculation that Detroit is seriously considering taking a quarterback with the No. 2 selection in Thursday’s NFL Draft.

NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero notes that there is an increasing buzz around the league that Willis could ho as high as the No. 2 overall. While some view it as a longshot, others point to Detroit’s coaching staff also working with Willis for a week at the Senior Bowl.

Speaking to reports, Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes seemingly added some fuel to the fire by highlighting that he wants to target a game-changer with the top pick. Willis fits that description.

“I’ve been saying all along that we’re looking for a game-changer at that pick, and really any pick. I’ve said ‘all positions’ — if that position is a quarterback, then it’s a quarterback.”

Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes on possibility of drafting a QB with 2nd overall pick, via Chris Burke
  • Malik Willis stats: 2,857 passing yards, 27-12 TD-INT, 151.1 QB rating, 878 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, 4.5 ypr

It’s very possible Detroit is putting out smoke, typical for NFL Draft rumors this time of year, to convince a quarterback-desperate team to move up. However, Willis really might be the ideal fit for the Lions’ rebuild model.

Why the Detroit Lions are a perfect fit for Malik Willis

NFL: Scouting Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t another quarterback prospect in the 2022 draft class with the physical tools even to compete with Malik Willis. Upon entering the NFL, he’ll arguably the second-most athletic quarterback behind Lamar Jackson. On pure arm strength and ability to throw from any angle, like Patrick Mahomes, he also tops his peers.

However, he’s far from a finished product. Willis struggled against top competition and he didn’t face it often at Liberty. Because of the team’s offense, he was rarely asked to read the field and progress through his reads. Heading to the NFL, the young quarterback’s inability to read and make the right reaction to the defense along with a lack of consistency progressing through his options, are problems.

There is even more work to be done, too. Willis needs to iron out how he reacts when under pressure. NFL coaches need to work with him on keeping his eyes downfield, moving up in the pocket and maintaining clean mechanics when there are bodies around him. Another issue to keep in mind, his size (6-foot) limits his ability to make throws over the middle consistently.

These are things that take time to develop and success isn’t guaranteed. Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen is the exception, a rare example of so many issues being ironed out and physical talent turning into an MVP-caliber player.

An NFL team can rush development with Willis. While there will be pressure from fans to see Willis immediately, he can’t be thrust into the spotlight immediately. If he is made a starter for a 17-game season, it will diminish his chances of developing into a star.

That’s why the Detroit Lions are the perfect fit. Goff is a serviceable quarterback who can start in 2022. The coaching staff knows he can get the football out to his playmakers quickly, keeping things afloat while Willis works with the coaching staff and gains extra practice reps.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Lions, check out #OnePride rumors, rankings, and news here.

We’ve also seen head coach Dan Campbell show a willingness to be creative with his offense. It means as a rookie, Willis could be used in packages with his rushing ability giving him an early taste of the NFL as he is eased into a bigger role.

Best of all, the Lions’ offensive line is one of its core strengths. Detroit is building the team the right way, creating an environment for a young quarterback to enjoy long-term success. While drafting Willis with the No. 2 pick would be a reach, the Lions are the one team within the top-10 picks that might be able to justify it with a development plan and foundation in place.