Will Malik Willis see the field with the Tennessee Titans in 2022?
In the weeks leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, it seemed like a given that Liberty quarterback Malik Willis would be a first-round pick and likely the first quarterback off the board altogether.
But the NFL Draft is known for having its fair share of surprises, and Willis found that out the hard way. Despite having first-round buzz, Willis fell to the end of the third round before being selected with the 86th pick by the Tennessee Titans.
Though Willis has officially reached the NFL ranks, he still has a ways to go in terms of his development. Even Willis’ biggest supporters in the pre-draft process voiced concerns about his pro readiness. From pocket presence and ball placement to throwing mechanics and footwork, Willis has several areas he can improve in.
One of the benefits of being selected by the Tennessee Titans is that there is no immediate pressure on Willis. He was never supposed to be a day one starter and with Ryan Tannehill leading the charge, Willis starting as a rookie is even less likely. This will allow Willis to spend his rookie season refining his game and putting himself in a position to compete for the starting job in 2023.
But just because Willis doesn’t need to see the field in 2022 doesn’t mean that it’s what is best for his development. Even if he isn’t the starter, the Titans can still find ways to get Willis valuable in-game reps.
The first option that comes to mind is using him in some rushing sets. Willis has high-end speed for the position and is possibly the best rushing quarterback to come out of college since Lamar Jackson. This athleticism allows Willis to do things as a rusher that most quarterbacks simply can’t. Having Willis and Derek Henry in the same backfield would be nightmare fuel for opposing defenses. Ryan Tannehill is a solid athlete in his own right but isn’t in the same stratosphere as Willis. Designed runs with Willis would give the Tennessee Titans an additional blocker, and the expanded playbook would keep defenses on their toes.
Recent trials with two quarterback offenses have suggested the concept works better on paper than in practice. Most recently, the 49ers used Trey Lance as a redzone/short-yardage quarterback early on in the 2021 season before scrapping the idea for the second half of the season. It seems that most coaches have decided the idea is more trouble than it’s worth, as the second quarterback has to take practice reps with the starters before running the plays in-game. But just because it hasn’t worked out yet doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t. Using Willis as a gadget quarterback is at least worth exploring.
As we enter the early stages of the preseason, much remains undetermined, especially for rookies. Training camp and preseason games will be the deciding factor in what happens to Malik Willis this year. Even his playing time later in the season will likely depend on where the Titans sit in the standings. Regardless, Tennessee has one of the most unique weapons in football, and finding any role for him, no matter how small could prove to be beneficial for both Willis’ development and the team.