The Falcons have been toying with the idea of finding Matt Ryan’s replacement for at least a few years. Those internal considerations did not lead to a whole lot. Atlanta ended up with the likes of Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks, A.J. McCarron, and Matt Schaub in that time period. In summary, there is no heir apparent or even heir unapparent to eventually replace the almost 37-year-old passer.
Whether or not the Falcons do replace Ryan, or find the first potential replacement that didn’t cost them the veteran minimum, will be a discussion up until the draft. Even if no rookie could or should play behind the team’s atrocious line, certain players could ride the bench for one (or more) seasons.
So far, no quarterback has clearly distinguished himself above any others. Early indications are that there is better volume than quality here with a wide variance on how many quarterbacks will go early in 2022. Quarterbacks like Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), and even Sam Howell (North Carolina) as potential first round picks.
SB Nation’s James Dator put out his first mock draft and it is a doozy. The quarterback going 8th overall to Atlanta? Liberty University’s Malik Willis.
Liberty University is far from an NFL powerhouse. Only two players have been drafted from Liberty in the last decade: 4th round DB Walt Aikens in 2014, and 4th round WR Antonio Gandy-Golden in 2020. You may not be familiar with the latter, as he has only had two touches in his NFL career.
For Willis, you see a lot of the same critiques for all small school players such as level of competition. That is a bit out the window with players like Carson Wentz and Trey Lance going at the very top of drafts. Willis, projected around 6-foot-1, 215-pounds, is considered a an athletic player that never had a supporting staff worth mentioning, whether personnel or coaching. His talent suggests that he may have the highest ceiling of any quarterback the draft, but that may only be thanks (at least in part) due to a lack of support and development making it hard to know where that ceiling is.
Willis is considered to have the foot speed, upside and arm strength to make some team take a shot at him. While they’re built differently and different players overall, the expectation for Willis may be similar to the expectations for Trey Lance, a player the 49ers drafted due to sky-high potential but elected to sit behind a veteran quarterback for most of the season with an eye on turning a year of development time into a great quarterback the following season. If the Falcons do think Willis can be special and want him to sit for a year or two, it’d be a controversial but not incredibly surprising move, but would push him into playing closer to 2023 or 2024 than 2022.
What do you think of this potential selection?