ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Pittsburgh Steelers taking Liberty quarterback Malik Willis with the No. 20 overall pick in his latest mock draft.
Willis has been repeatedly tied to the Steelers after the team took a special interest in him at the Senior Bowl, and with the quarterback class seen as a down one, the second passer off the board may just be available when the Steelers draft.
Kiper only has Pitt’s Kenny Pickett going ahead of Willis, to the Washington Commanders at No. 11.
Other options on Kiper’s board for the Steelers at pick No. 20 included Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green, Boston College guard Zion Johnson, Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell.
“Willis is the most talented quarterback in this class, in my opinion, but he can be erratic with his accuracy,” Kiper wrote. “He has all of the tools to be successful, but he’ll need to be coached hard. If the Steelers don’t go with a signal-caller here, keep an eye out for offensive line.”
Willis jumped onto the draft radar with two strong seasons at Liberty. As a senior in 2021, he threw for 2,857 yards and rushed for another 878, accounting for 40 total touchdowns.
Considered something of a raw prospect, Kiper said that the Steelers might give Willis time to develop at the NFL level in this scenario and instead lean on Mason Rudolph to start in 2022.
“He didn’t have a ton of talent around him at Liberty and he was sacked an FBS-high 51 times last season,” Kiper wrote. “He shouldn’t be asked to play in Week 1 in September. If he goes to Pittsburgh, he’ll compete with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins (and potentially another short-term veteran) and won’t be pressured to play immediately.”
The Steelers need to replace retiring star Ben Roethlisberger at the quarterback position, but have other needs in this offseason, including cornerback, defensive line, offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver.