Inquiring minds (including Malik Willis) want to know—what happened to Malik Willis . . . ?
Day 1 of the NFL draft came and went on Thursday, as did the prospect of the Liberty University quarterback becoming a 2022 first-round pick. Despite Willis’ undeniable upside—with the rocket launcher of an arm, the dynamic mobility, the sponge of a football mind and the personality to light up a whole stadium—the uncertainty surrounding his immediate worth left him sitting in the green room last night.
In fact, he wasn’t the only standout passer that didn’t receive his call. Save for Kenny Pickett, who went all the way down at No. 20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, this year’s quarterback class went untouched through the draft’s first 32 picks. No Willis, no Desmond Ridder and no Matt Corral.
And while we’re on the subject of noes, the Carolina Panthers still have a few big ones themselves. Even after living out their dream scenario with the improbable piracy of offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu, the franchise enters Day 2 without any picks and, more importantly, without a concrete solution under center.
As their remaining ammunition currently stands, the Panthers’ next choice will come in the fourth round on Saturday—when No. 137 hits the queue. After that, they’ll have Nos. 144, 149, 199 and 242 at their disposal—none of which will land them that quarterback of the future.
So, should they expedite that process? Should the Panthers jump back in the pool with Willis just waiting there to be dragged out?
Well, yeah. Duh. Why the heck not?
Why waste any more resources on Sam Darnold? You already burned the second-round pick on him that forced you into this predicament. Why waste another season?
And why bother parting with any of those resources, money included, for either Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield? It’s clear that the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns didn’t want them, so why should you undertake a third straight retread project?
The answers here, of course, should be obvious. What isn’t clear, however, is how the Panthers can get there.
How can Carolina squeeze their way into a position for Willis?
That odyssey, which’ll be a pricey one, probably begins with their 2023 draft capital. There’s no way the Panthers can get themselves to the top of the second round without digging deep in their bag, especially with prospective trade partners knowing their desperate need for a franchise quarterback.
If they’re willing to do so, even against general manager Scott Fitterer’s hopes of protecting future assets, we’re starting with next year’s first-rounder or next year’s second-rounder. The former, particularly in what’ll likely be a juicy quarterback class in 12 months, just seems too expensive.
(Just for reference, the last time the organization traded a future first for a second, that landed them Florida State University defensive end Everette Brown. It’s apples to oranges, but still . . . woof.)
Instead, the package could be powered by their 2023 second-rounder. Now, what (or who) else do we add?
To nab Willis, Carolina would have to get ahead of a few other possible destinations for the talented 22-year-old. Those suitors could include the Tennessee Titans at No. 35, the New York Giants at No. 36 and, in what’ll likely be his floor, the Seattle Seahawks at No. 40 or 41.
Um, does Fitterer have the number for Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah? Because, uh, that 34th pick may the one.
Could that 2023 second and wideout Robby (or Robbie, we’re not sure at the moment) Anderson off the top, get it done? Eh.
How about that pick and young defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos? Or perhaps a deal headlined by 2019 first-rounder Derrick Brown can give Minnesota the promising defensive tackle they’ve been looking for.
Whatever it could be, our point is simple—it won’t be easy.
Taking what’s become a smaller gamble on Willis should have Fitterer, head coach Matt Rhule and owner David Tepper buzzing. They’ve already failed (numerous times) at finding a quarterback over the past two and half offseasons, so they’re aware of how immensely difficult this type of quest is.
But it’s not going to solve itself.
Rolling the dice a bit for Willis and his potent traits, in fact, should be commended given what he could be in time. After all, you gotta swing for the fences, right?
And now that they finally have the formidable offensive line to put a worthwhile passer behind, the Panthers have to keep swinging—taking shot after shot—to secure their guy. Just look for the green light.