Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze joined the Rich Eisen Show late last week to talk about his former quarterback, Malik Willis, and where the young, talented passer may land in the 2022 NFL Draft next month.
Eisen spent the better part of three minutes prodding Freeze to name every team who has been contacting him about Willis, and the Liberty head coach talked up six teams—none of which were the Detroit Lions. The Lions weren’t mentioned in the entire 14-minute interview.
“I know the teams that have spent an enormous amount of time visiting with me, whether it’s Carolina or Pittsburgh or Atlanta,” Freeze said. “All of those have spent—Seahawks—a lot of time with us, but it’s hard for me to keep up.”
Freeze later added that the Washington Commanders met with him for a long time at the Senior Bowl, and he just got done talking to the Philadelphia Eagles last week. Six teams—all with picks in the 6-20 range—but no Lions mentioned.
You never want to read too much into this, as this was an off-the-cuff conversation and it’s quite possible Freeze simply forgot to add the Lions. Additionally, the Lions worked with Willis for an entire week at the Senior Bowl, and they likely have a pretty good feel for the kind of player and person he is after working with him so intimately.
Still, if the Lions were going to take a chance on Willis with the second overall—which many believe to be a pretty big risk for a raw, unrefined player—you’d think the Lions would turn over every stone and expend every resource that they had in making sure he was the right choice. And if they were truly considering Willis and were doing exhaustive research on him, it would be hard for Freeze to forget them.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Lions sent just Lance Newmark, director of player personnel, to Willis’ pro day. Not general manager Brad Holmes or quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell (who reportedly had another commitment).
Another possible scenario is that the Lions got all the information they believe they needed to take Willis at the Senior Bowl, and in an effort to hide their interest, they’ve been eerily quiet in that hopes that no one jumps them in the draft to take them. It seems a bit far fetched that someone would consider trading up to the first overall pick to draft Willis, but you never really know.
Or maybe the simplest explanation is also the correct one. Maybe the Lions truly want to see what Jared Goff can do with a more complete team around him, and don’t see Willis as a quarterback they absolutely can’t afford to pass on, and they made that decision at the Senior Bowl. Maybe they’ve moved on to other options and aren’t pouring resources into Willis anymore.
Last week, Lions head coach Dan Campbell had nice things to say about Willis—calling him “an explosive athlete”—but he also didn’t sound like he was in a hurry to add a quarterback this year.
“(Let’s) keep adding pieces and then, man, whenever that is—is it next year? Is it this year? Is it two years from now?” Campbell said. “And the right guy’s sitting there, then you figure out a way to get that guy. You figure out a way when it’s the right guy.”