The 2022 NFL Draft is over, and the hype pre-draft for Malik Willis was out of this world. Some speculated that he would go as high as the top 10, but he was selected by the Titans at pick 86 in the third round. This is a good spot to develop, but the weaknesses he showed, NFL teams could not look past.
This was just an appetizer, as Malik 2.0 (Malik Cunningham) is a better version and played again much better competition. Cunningham was a 3-star prospect in 2017 that was outside the top 500 and listed as the 33rd-ranked athlete. He did get offers from Georgia and Georgia Tech before deciding to join the Cardinals, following in Lamar Jackson’s footsteps.
Cunningham at Louisville
As a freshman, Malik Cunningham appeared in 10 games, attempting only 67 passes but showed his great rushing ability, leading the team with 497 rush yards and 5 touchdowns. In his second year, he shared time but did throw for over 2000 yards and 22 touchdowns with only 5 ints. In the shortened Covid 2020 year, Cunningham fully took over as starting QB and improved his passing yards but did throw 12 interceptions and increased his rushing to over 600 yards.
Last year many were unsure how the Cardinals would fare on offense after losing playmakers Tutu Atwell, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Javian Hawkins. Those three players accounted for 49% of the offensive yards and 46% of the touchdowns for the offense. Even without those players, Cunningham had a very good year improving on TD/INT rate from 1.67 to 3.17. The more impressive improvement was his electric running, where he ran for over 1000 yards and 20 touchdowns.
- Mobility/speed – Can roll out either direction throwing on the run. He has the speed to turn the corner and make any defense look silly
- Pocket Presence – Knows when to leave pocket (sacks went from 34 to 20 in 2021)
- Varied Ball Delivery – Can bullet the ball into tight spaces but also loft the ball for the receiver to catch easily
- Ball Placement – He is very good on the deep ball and allows the receiver to catch the ball in stride
- Decision Making – Will force the ball at times and misses a safety or linebacker sitting in the zone at times
- Accuracy – His highest completion percentage is 64.1, and his career is only 62.6. I would like to see that number rise in 2022
- Consistency – He needs to show the ability to play steady week in and week out. Cunningham needs to improve his play against the quality defenses that he faces
- Footwork – At times, he throws off his back foot and does not step into throws. Even though he has the arm to make these throws, he needs to work on mechanics for the next level
Comparing the two Maliks
I brought up both Malik Willis and Malik Cunningham, so it would make sense to compare the two. The stats of the last two years look very similar, with Willis having more passing touchdowns this past season. One thing that stands out is the number of sacks. The sacks that Willis took this year almost equal the total by Cunningham in two years. Cunningham almost cut his sacks in half this year in more games showing his better pocket presence in 2021.
Both quarterbacks passed well against the blitz and when not pressured. While both did not perform great under pressure, Cunningham had more success and fewer turnovers.
- Cunningham under pressure: 44.6%, 7 TDs, 2 INTs
- Willis under pressure: 38.9 %, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
Willis and Cunningham also performed similarly in 2021 in the depth of behind the line, short or under 9 yards, and deep or over 20 yards. Where the big difference was in medium yardage (10-19 yards), Cunningham had 69.6% compared to Willis 45.8% and threw four fewer interceptions.
2022 and Beyond
The Cardinals have retooled their offense in the offseason by adding three players: Tiyon Evans from Tennessee, Dee Wiggins from Miami, and Tyler Hudson from Central Arkansas. I was excited to see the spring game this year and saw the good and the bad. Cunningham threw a nice deep ball to Tyler Hudson, one of the first plays. In the next series, he threw a bad interception to a linebacker that was just a bad read. Another welcome sight was the importance of throwing to the running backs more.
With the addition of the transfer wide receivers, Cunningham has more threats than athletic tight end Marshon Ford. This, along with more check-downs, should help raise the completion percentage and provide a better flowing offense. With a great season, Cunningham could not only help the Cardinals compete in the ACC but also lay claim to the QB spots in the 2023 Draft after CJ Stroud and Bryce Young.
I know it is an easy comparison because of school, but Cunningham reminds me of Lamar Jackson in his quick release and how elusive he is in the open field. Because of that, in C2C leagues, he is going between Rounds 5 or 6, so if you want him, you may need to target him at the end of Round 4. For Devy leagues, I would take him later in your yearly drafts. I have been taking him in the last round, but I would take him in the last couple of rounds. Once the season starts, it will be very pricy to acquire him, and you may regret it.