After a week of practices, the Senior Bowl airs today at 2:30 p.m. ET on the official league station, NFL Network. And while the practices are the main attraction, the all-star game itself does provide some means to an end, an opportunity to see something that sorta resembles football as we wait another week for the conclusion to the 2021 season.
This leads us to today’s Question of the Day:
Which player are you looking forward to watching in the Senior Bowl?
Alright, so it’s become a gimmick or schtick of sorts over the past few years: there’s a player I get interested in following over the course of the college football season, I stump for them come draft season, and it gives me something to keep an eye during the season. First, it was Jerry Jeudy in 2020, then Kyle Pitts last season, and now, Malik Willis.
I’ve hammed it up quite a bit with Willis because it’s fun. It’s fun to root for the success of people who bet on themselves as Willis did. ESPN’s Jordan Reid summed up Willis’ journey from high school through college here, so allow me to paraphrase and include some further commentary.
Originally, Willis committed to Virginia Tech after being recruited by many schools as a three-star athlete out of Georgia. The plan was to have him transition into a defensive back, but Willis decided against that plan for himself, so he decommitted, signed with the Auburn Tigers, and got back to playing the quarterback position. Well, almost.
Willis couldn’t earn the starting job at Auburn after sitting behind Jarrett Stidham for two seasons. The team decided to go with Bo Nix as the starter in 2019, and that left Willis out of an opportunity. Willis eventually ended up at Liberty where former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze had taken over, but Willis would have to spend the 2019 season sitting out because of the NCAA’s transfer rules. Instead of going on sabbatical, Willis stuck around, got a jumpstart on grad school courses, and started studying Freeze’s playbook.
From there, you can look up the stats he accumulated over two seasons at Liberty. You’ll see he led the Flames to their first victory over an ACC opponent in the school’s history when they beat Virginia Tech, the team that wanted to change his football identity. You’ll see he was college’s best quarterback on the ground, rushing for 944 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2020. You’ll see he struggled a bit in 2021, doubling his interception total to 12, not being nearly as efficient a runner (4.5 yards per carry in 2021, down from 6.7 in 2020), and missing out on the opportunity to make an impression against Ole Miss.
Over the past week, Willis has become the talk of Mobile. He impressed scouts and media members with his phenomenal arm talent. He impressed his peers and was named the American team’s top quarterback by his defensive teammates at the Senior Bowl. Willis couldn’t have had a better week of practice, but now, he gets another opportunity. He gets a chance to make some reads, make some throws, and make some more doubters turn into believers during today’s Senior Bowl.