No team in the NFL can hold a candle to the amount of drama surrounding the Tennessee Titans’ first two days at the 2022 NFL Draft. After shocking the football world by trading star wide receiver A.J. Brown on Thursday, the Titans followed that move up by trading up in the third round to select Liberty QB Malik Willis with the 86th overall pick.
Willis is coming off his redshirt junior season at Liberty in which he threw for 2,857 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. His mobility is also a major strength in his game as Willis rushed for a team-high 878 yards and 13 scores in 2021. In 2020, Willis led all FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards (944) and touchdowns (14).
Although the competition was not stiff at Liberty, Willis managed to put together quite the highlight reel in his two seasons on campus.
Malik Willis can mooove. 27-yard run across the field in the Senior Bowl sets up the American squad on the opposing 7.— Simon Gibbs (@SimonGibbs26) February 5, 2022
Through a quarter, Willis was only 2-of-4 for 11 passing yards, but he led all rushers with five carries for 48 yards.
At Liberty, Willis was forced to make all of the plays. With a live arm and the ability to improvise outside the pocket, he possesses the physical traits necessary to succeed at the next level.
Projected by most draft experts as a first-round pick and possibly the first quarterback taken, Willis slid all the way to pick No. 86. The Titans were able to jump four spots to acquire pick No. 86 from the Las Vegas Raiders in exchange for picks No. 90 and 169.
So, why the slide?
In his two seasons at Liberty, Willis played under the direction of head coach Hugh Freeze. Freeze ran a wide-open spread offense designed to get his playmakers in space. After lining up almost exclusively in the shotgun, Willis will have to learn how to operate an NFL offense from under center.
If he is to see playing time early on with the Titans he must adapt to tighter formations, learn to read defenses, and be able to go through progressions in a timely manner.
The Titans have struggled to find a competent quarterback to back up Tannehill since his arrival in 2019. With two years remaining on his deal and a potential out after the season, the Titans are clearly planning for life after Tannehill.
Willis will likely spend his rookie season watching Tannehill and learning under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Todd Downing and passing game coordinator Tim Kelly. The learning curve is steep, but the Titans would not have moved up to get Willis if they didn’t feel like he could be the starter down the line.
Malik Willis throw on the run pic.twitter.com/TOFSAlJtkU— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) November 6, 2021
The Titans’ draft philosophy was thrown out of the window after Brown was dealt to Philadelphia on Thursday night. After Tennessee won the regular season title in the AFC, there were plenty of reasons the team could compete again. General Manager Jon Robinson seems to have pivoted from that idea as it’s beginning to feel like a competitive rebuild is on the horizon.
Robinson explained his decision to trade up for the quarterback saying, “You never know what’s going on behind you and he was the best available player on the board.”
Interestingly enough, the Titans did not make Tannehill aware that plans were in place to select a quarterback in this year’s draft.
Jon Robinson said #Titans did not consult Ryan Tannehill before drafting Malik Willis.— Terry McCormick (@terrymc13) April 30, 2022
Willis has many attractive attributes and a high enough ceiling to draw comparisons to former Titans QB Steve McNair. But with roster needs at numerous positions, taking a quarterback in the third round is another one of Robinson’s draft gambles.
Featured image via Robert McDuffie – USA TODAY Sports