The Cincinnati Bengals have had their fair share of draft busts but there might not be a bigger one than Akili Smith, who the stripes took with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports did a fun article where he compared a current draft prospect with a former draft bust. He made sure to note that this is simply a fun exercise and not to put a lot of stock into this but you can see where this is going.
Trapasso wrote that Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who looks to be the first quarterback off the board in April’s draft, might end up like Smith. He offered this analysis:
"Smith was an athletic, arm-talent quarterback who took off and ran often relative to how frequently many passers did in the pocket era. When kept clean, Smith threw with pinpoint ball placement. A contract holdout — fortunately won’t be an issue for Willis — delayed his development.While there wasn’t any one “thing” that detonated his NFL career, he seemed to never be able react to the heightened speed of the pro game and finished his career as a 46.6% passer with five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. If there’s one reasonable element that could hold back Willis in the NFL, it’s the difficult jump in competition in front of him after playing his college ball at Liberty."
The biggest reason these two could be compared is that they’re athletic quarterbacks. Willis is someone who definitely relies on his rushing abilities, having totaled over 800 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns on the ground this year. Smith never had quite those numbers but he was no stranger to using his legs to extend the play.
Could Malik Willis end up like former Bengals QB Akili Smith?
As Trapasso noted, when the Bengals drafted Smith they had to worry about giving him a huge contract, which hasn’t been the case for rookies over the last decade. Willis won’t hold out entering training camp as Smith did when he entered the NFL and that already means he’ll be off to a better pro career.
At the end of the day, we have no idea what these players are going to do in the pros. Smith was thought to be a home run addition when Cincinnati made him the third overall pick but we all know that didn’t pan out. He was out of the league after just four years.
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Fortunately, even if Malik Willis does end up following in Akili Smith’s footsteps, it won’t affect the Bengals. They have their franchise quarterback and don’t have to worry about finding one in a draft class that doesn’t seem to have great options at the position.