Matt Corral vs. Malik Willis: Scouting takeaways from Ole Miss vs. Liberty

·5 min read

Two of the consensus top quarterback prospects for the 2022 NFL draft led their teams against one another on Saturday. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral and his Rebels beat Malik Willis and the Liberty Flames, 27-14, in a nonconference game.

The Lions were not among the 16 credentialed NFL teams in attendance, but Detroit GM Brad Holmes and his scouting staff know each quarterback well. This game highlighted some of the upside but also some of the flaws in both potential draftees.

Malik Willis

Willis started out slow from the very first Liberty offensive snap. He was sacked on the play, and this one was on him for holding the ball too long in a poorly schemed offense that didn’t present the QB with shorter, quicker-developing options. That turned into a recurring theme for Willis.

He was sacked seven times in the first half. Three of the first four were directly on Willis for not getting rid of the ball, something that he must improve upon for success at the next level. His unwillingness to try and throw receivers open, or see open targets that weren’t his first read fast enough to act upon it, was troubling.

Take this red-zone third down. Watch the receiver breaking across the slot. That’s as open as a receiver is going to get in this situation in the NFL and Willis either doesn’t see him or doesn’t trust he can hit it. Neither is a good answer.

The throwing motion leaves something to be desired. This is the first interception from Willis. Give the defender some credit here for making a great play, but this is a bad, late throw with unnecessarily poor mechanics and lousy eye discipline from Willis.

Where Willis looked like an NFL-caliber player was when he tucked and ran. He’s got quick acceleration and good balance through contact once he fully commits to the run. This play highlights the smart choice to keep it and beat the defense with his legs. The acceleration off the lateral cut is something that cannot be taught:

Combined with his easy arm strength on deeper throws and high velocity he can generate without having great or consistent mechanics, it’s easy to see the “tools” that often get mentioned for Willis. But in this game, you wouldn’t know he was an NFL draft prospect as a passer if you hadn’t been told ahead of time.

Matt Corral

Corral looked like the more NFL-ready passer on Saturday. His stat line reflected it: 20-for-27, 324 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 12.0 yards per attempt.

The arm strength isn’t to Willis’ caliber, and that showed on a deep strike to wideout Dannis Jackson. The initial velocity was fantastic off the play-action fake, but the ball hung up near the end and forced the speedy Jackson to come back to complete the 50-yard reception. That ball traveled around 58 yards in the air.

Corral’s accuracy was better than his stat line showed. Two of his first three incompletions were both dropped passes on near-perfect strikes by Corral. The downfield touch and accuracy were on display on a sideline shot in the second quarter:

Corral is aided here by indecisive safety play. I’d like to see him look off the coverage, something he’ll need to do to complete this throw at the next level. But the timing and touch are perfect on a difficult throw over the top.

The play-action game is big for both Corral and Willis. I love how well Willis sells the fake; it’s consistent form and process whether it’s a designed option run or RPO. It might be my favorite takeaway from Willis in this game. Corral can rush the process a bit, but when the defense bites even for half a count, he understands how to attack it.

Lions fans, that’s a Matthew Stafford throw that Jared Goff simply doesn’t do. Corral’s got that club in the bag and isn’t afraid to pull it out. Look at how quickly he goes from the fake to a perfect throwing platform. It’s not like that every time for Corral, alas, but this is outstanding and directly translatable to the NFL.

Overall

Corral was clearly the better NFL prospect on Saturday. There are some minor quibbles with the consistency of his motions, but Corral looked like a very promising NFL starter, albeit against an outclassed opponent. The accuracy all over the field, the poise, the confidence, the pocket movement were all top-shelf and meritorious of a top-5 pick.

Willis looked more like a toolsy but very unrefined late-round project than a top-15 overall pick, which is where he’s generally projected in current mock drafts. He’s just not advanced enough in a simplistic Liberty offense to put on an NFL field anytime soon, a less-ready but more athletic passer in the mold of Zack Wilson coming out of BYU. As New York Jets fans can attest, that’s not a compliment.

That’s based off just one game, a game that’s the second-best performance in five 2021 games I’ve seen from Corral (Arkansas tops it) and easily the worst in the three-plus games of Willis I’ve studied thus far. Keep that context in mind. Scouting these players involves a lot more than just one game.