Former Liberty Flames and Tennessee Titans QB Malik Willis was one of the most exciting prospects of the 2022 NFL Draft. His incredible athleticism and arm strength at the quarterback position set him apart from the other prospects and had many analysts and experts anticipating him being selected in the top ten.
To the surprise of everyone (except maybe NFL GM’s) Willis fell not just out of the first round, but all the way down to the 86th pick where the Titans selected him.
While quarterback wasn’t the biggest priority of the Titans in the draft, Titans General Manager Jon Robinson believed that Willis was the best player available on the board, and thought the value was too good to pass up:
“When we get to the third round, it was the best player on our board, like we said. We felt the value was there to add a player at that position. … I think his role will be determined by how quickly he comes in here and learns the offense and improves and gains the respect of his teammates.”
– Titans GM JON ROBINSON
The selection of Willis in the draft has been a hot topic among Titans fans, Titans media, and even the national media following Ryan Tannehill’s comments last week. The dynamic of the quarterback room will continue to be a story to watch as training camp and the season unfold.
But how realistic is it for Malik Willis to actually take Ryan Tannehill’s job in the near future?
When analyzing Malik Willis, there’s no pretending that he’s the home run QB prospect we’ve seen in years past. The talent and upside are clear, but there’s a reason he fell to 86 and no team took the leap of faith before Tennessee.
Pittsburgh opted for the local product in Kenny Pickett, the Falcons preferred Desmond Ridder, and teams like Seattle and Carolina sat on their hands, betting on the likes of Drew Lock and Matt Corral instead.
Do you agree with Pete Carroll? pic.twitter.com/n3jgCkKILJ— PFF (@PFF) May 6, 2022
As talented as Willis is, there are legitimate concerns regarding his turnover tendencies (12 interceptions in 13 games as a Senior) and his lack of experience in NFL style systems. Not only has “level of competition” been a popular knock on him, Willis played in a spread offense under Hugh Freeze at Liberty, and his lack of experience under center scared many teams away.
From NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport:
“Everybody loves the talent, but the offense he plays in is so simple. There are questions [about] how quickly could he get acclimated to the NFL? Could it take one year? Could it take two years? That certainly has led to some of the hesitancy with him not getting selected.”
– Ian Rapoport on MALIK WILLIS
So, what can the Titans do to help Willis make the NFL transition? And how can they develop him into a reliable insurance policy and future franchise QB?
For starters, you don’t’ play him this season.
While the direction of the Tennessee Titans has been at times misleading and confusing this offseason, the team is very much still in a competitive window. The last thing Willis or the Titans need is for him to be taking his first NFL snaps under the pressure and scrutiny of a team and fanbase starving for a playoff run. He’s raw. The only time he should be on the field is in special packages designed for him, or if Ryan Tannehill goes down.
Willis should also be working heavily with Titans passing game coordinator Tim Kelly. Kelly is a new hire that recently came over from the Houston Texans after serving for three seasons as their offensive coordinator.
Under the tutelage of Kelly, Deshaun Watson posted the best season of his young career in 2020. And lest you think Kelly’s resume is carried by the talent of Watson, Davis Mills looked like a competent NFL starter in his first season in the league with Houston.
One benefit the Titans will have is the ability to take from the examples displayed for them across the league. The new era of football has allowed raw and athletic quarterbacks to blossom into superstars, and the blueprint for their success is out there.
Kelly, having worked with Watson, knows exactly what it takes. He may be the guy who can push the right buttons to get the very best out of Malik Willis and get him NFL ready as quickly as possible. Working on decision making and limiting turnovers is an obvious improvement that needs to happen, but getting Willis comfortable under center would make him that much more valuable.
Willis’ speed in a play-action offense would open up more running lanes for Derrick Henry, and give the Titans a legitimate franchise QB that fits into the new age style of football offense.
Image via Douglas DeFelice – USA TODAY Sports