Getting the opportunity to coach in the senior bowl is a huge advantage, as coaches get to work up close with some of the best draft prospects in the 2022 draft cycle. The final rosters are still being hashed out, but on Thursday evening, the Senior Bowl announced which quarterbacks would be on each roster.
The Lions landed three prospects with some very intriguing developmental upside in Liberty’s Malik Willis, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, and Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe.
Both Willis and Howell were once considered among the best prospects in this quarterback class, but along the way, this season exposed some serious concerns. They both have some appealing upside, but neither is considered a top half of Round 1 prospect anymore. Meanwhile, Zappe has only seen his stock ascend, and his record-setting season has driven his stock up draft boards. Currently, he’s projected as an early Day 3 prospect.
It’s worth noting that coaches can make requests to the Senior Bowl for specific players they want to coach, so it’s worth taking the time to learn about these specific quarterbacks. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look.
Malik Willis, Liberty
6-foot-0, 218 pounds
207/339 (61.1%), 2857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
197 rushes, 878 yards, 13 touchdowns
Willis is an electric quarterback who arguably possesses the highest developmental ceiling of any quarterback in this draft class. He has an absolute cannon for an arm and can make throws to all levels, but his accuracy leaves a lot to be desired and it will probably force him to start his NFL career on the bench.
While his passing game is still raw, his ability to tuck and run is NFL-ready. With running back-like vision, and above-average athleticism, Willis keeps defenses on their toes and routinely gashes them for big yards.
For more information on Willis, I profiled him in my 2022 draft watch series this past fall.
Sam Howell, North Carolina
6-foot-1, 220 pounds
217/347 (62.5%), 3056 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
183 rushes, 828 yards, 11 touchdowns
Do you like Baker Mayfield? Well if you do, you’ll love Howell. Entering the season, he was considered a potential No. 1 overall prospect, but a three-interception opening game disaster against Virginia Tech exposed some questionable decision-making and torpedoed his stock.
Following that game, Howell adjusted his approach to his game, relying less on his skill players and more on his legs. Howell deserves a lot of credit for making the most of a season where North Carolina’s skill players struggled, but at the same time, you have to wonder if he couldn’t have done more to help those around him.
For more information on Howell, I profiled him in my 2022 draft watch series this past fall.
Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
6-foot-1, 220 pounds
476/687 (69.3%), 5967 passing yards (NCAA record), 62 touchdowns (NCAA record), 11 interceptions
51 rushes, 17 yards, 3 touchdowns
After the first two weeks of the season, Zappe was quickly gaining attention and many projected he could be the next 5,000-yard passer in the NCAA. By the end of the season, he would come up just short of 6,000-yards and became the new NCAA leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, taking down Jow Burrow’s fantastic final season at LSU.
While Zappe is quick to read defenses, highly accurate, and throws a very catchable ball, he has his share of physical limitations that could hurt him at the next level. He doesn’t have great arm strength nor overall athleticism, and while he has room to grow as a quarterback, he does not have the project upside of the other two in this group.
While the limitations could hurt his ability to land a starting role in the NFL, his throwing intangibles and intelligence could land him a 10-15 year job in the NFL as a backup who is always in demand.
Willis and Howell both have big arms and are extremely athletic but both struggle in decision making. At Senior Bowl practices, Zappe’s arm strength will likely be noticeably weaker, but if he can maintain his accuracy, he can still stand out from the group.
The Jets quarterbacks
While the Lions coaches will be getting a close-up, in-depth look at the three quarterbacks above, it’s worth noting that, per Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, they will also get meeting room time with the quarterbacks the Jets will be coaching: Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), and Carson Strong (Nevada). Lions coaches won't get the full training treatment with the Jets’ trio, but sitting in a meeting room will tell the Lions a lot about these players.
Senior Bowl practices begin January 31 in Mobile, Alabama, and after a week of practices, the All-Star game will be played on Saturday, February 5th.