Mel Kiper Jr. Sends ‘Dual-Threat Signal-Caller’ to Washington Football Team

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Mel Kiper Jr. has an interesting take on how the Washington Football Team can solve its quarterback problem in 2022. Kiper released his first mock draft of the year for ESPN on Wednesday, and he sent a surprising choice to Washington with the 11th-overall pick.

Mel Kiper Selects Quarterback for Washington Football Team

Unexpected Choice

The passer in question isn’t one of the names most familiar at the position in this class. Kiper didn’t choose Matt Corral, Sam Howell or Kenny Pickett. Instead, he went with Liberty’s Malik Willis:

You might be surprised that it’s Willis, but you really shouldn’t be. He was in the QB1 mix all fall before he faded a little bit in the last stretch of the regular season. The more tape I watch of his past two seasons and the more I talk to evaluators in the league, the more I like him. Put simply, Willis is the most talented quarterback in this class. He didn’t always get to show that at Liberty, which didn’t have much NFL talent around him. (He was sacked an astounding 51 times in 2021.) This is a dual-threat signal-caller — he rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons — with a powerful arm. I’m really excited to see him compete against the other top QBs in the Senior Bowl in a couple weeks.

There’s plenty of interesting points to pick from Kiper’s analysis. The first is how NFL evaluators appear to endorse Willis as the best QB in this class. Washington can’t get this pick wrong after the Dwayne Haskins debacle in 2019, so going with the consensus choice would be the safe call.

What also stands out about Kiper’s analysis is how well Willis has performed without a blue-chip supporting cast. The ability to get more from less is a good omen for Washington. Scott Turner’s offense has some talent, like wide receiver Terry McLaurin, but the unit lacks elite names at the skill positions.

Naturally, the most damaging deficiency is at quarterback. Kiper acknowledges Washington’s weakness and urges the team not to enter another season with Taylor Heinicke under center.

Heinicke Not the Answer

He’s had his moments since running Tom Brady close in the 2020 playoffs, but Heinicke isn’t the answer. A full season as the starter proved as much, after the 28-year-old threw 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Heinicke also completed 64.6 percent of his passes and averaged 6.9 yards per completion. Those are decent, but ultimately modest totals. Washington needs more big-play potential from the most important position on the field.

The offense performed better when Turner finally put the ball in the hands of running back Antonio Gibson more often. Gibson rushed for 1,037 yards and topped 20 carries four times from Week 10 onwards. Washington’s offensive line thrived following the change in emphasis, according to numbers relayed by podcast host Al Galdi:

Heinicke has his fans, notably Hall of Famer Brett Favre, but there’s no doubt Washington’s offense is more effective when the ball is on the ground.

Scott Turner Needs a Mobile Quarterback

Getting more creative with his personnel has to be the priority for Turner next season. He’s not lacking versatile playmakers capable of gashing defenses in multiple ways.

Wide receivers Curtis Samuel and DeAndre Carter can both double up as de facto running backs. Similarly, running backs Gibson and J.D. McKissic have ample experience as wide receivers. Tight end Logan Thomas, meanwhile, is a converted quarterback tailor-made for Wildcat packages.

A running quarterback would not only unlock these multi-purpose talents, but also expand how Turner can attack defenses. Turner and head coach Ron Rivera designed offenses for a dual-threat quarterback during their days with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

Like Newton, Willis is special whenever he pulls the ball down to run. He has an innate feel for making would-be tacklers miss:

Dual-threat quarterbacks make a running game better. Washington only needs to look at how a pretty average Philadelphia Eagles team rode Jalen Hurts’ wheels to the playoffs. You can go further back to when an explosive, Robert Griffin III-led rushing attack powered Washington to the NFC East title in 2012.

Willis has the potential to yield similar rewards as a rookie. He compares well with another runner-thrower who has transformed a losing franchise, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.

CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso compared Willis favorably to Allen, noting how the latter was also doubted during the pre-draft process in 2018. Allen has more than proved his detractors wrong since, something Trapasso believes Willis would do with, “game-altering arm talent,” and as a, “dynamic, powerful runner with the football in his hands.”

If Washington drafts Willis, Turner will be able to incorporate more read-option looks and designed quarterback runs. Players like Gibson and Samuel will see less attention from defenses primarily focused on corralling a quarterback who can beat them in more ways than one.

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