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Malik Willis as the Tennessee Titans future: Best and worst-case scenario

Crissy Froyd

One of the most-surprising things about the 2022 NFL Draft was how far former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis fell, ultimately landing with the Tennessee Titans at No. 86 overall.

Willis had been ranked among the top-10 quarterbacks in the nation ahead of the 2022 season and was largely considered the best quarterback available for the taking by April, projected as high as No. 2 overall.

If anything, though, it often can play out in a quarterback’s favor to be selected later on because it logically puts said player in a better situation. In short, he latches on with a better organization.

In Willis’ case, he lands on a team in which it’s a realistic scenario that he could become the starter in a relatively short period of time. Even a quarterback with as high of a ceiling as Willis, there will still be growing pains and a rookie learning curve that no quarterback can bypass.

Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara has spoken about working on the basics with Willis.

“A lot of quarterbacks, when they come in, you really have to teach the operation. And the operation is really everything you do before you touch the football. It’s a huddle. It’s a play call. It’s the cadence at the line of scrimmage. It’s [being] under center. It’s getting us in the right play at the line of scrimmage.

“So, there’s tasks, and those tasks are all part of the operation. And each day that’s improving. He’s really been good. We just keep moving forward one day at a time.”

Pat O’Hara on Malik Willis, via Sports Illustrated

Crissy Froyd’s 2022 NFL Draft QB Rankings

  1. Carson Strong, Nevada
  2. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
  3. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
  4. Malik Willis, Liberty
  5. Sam Howell, UNC
  6. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
  7. Bailey Zappe, Western Kentucky
  8. Jack Coan, Notre Dame
  9. Brock Purdy, Iowa State
  10. Dustin Crum, Kent State

Best-case scenario for Malik Willis in Nashville

tennessee titans qb malik willis
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

There’s a lot to like about Willis’ game between the Houdini-like mobility and the elite arm talent he brings to the table as a passer. Willis showed great improvement in the latter area throughout offseason showcases like the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine and the Reese’s Senior Bowl, putting more touch on throws. It’s something that had been an issue throughout the season.

Willis’ quarterback trainer, Sean McEvoy, spoke about the signal caller’s improvement as a pure passer during the Senior Bowl and noted he had gotten better in understanding which throws fit certain situations.

“I think it’s part of the development process and getting the reps at it and understanding what kind of trajectory he needs on different plays based on the route concepts,” McEvoy told me in February. “I think early on in his career, he got some coaching on the deep ball to add more air under it to give receivers more time to get under it.

He’s got a unique amount of arm strength that allows him to be more aggressive on the deep ball and I think sometimes he’s at his best when he does keep a lower trajectory on it and drive it.”

Willis didn’t have the most solid supporting cast at Liberty and was easily the star of the team in his own right.

“He’s uniquely talented,” McEvoy said in Mobile. “He’s got the strong arm, he can make plays from the pocket and I think you’re seeing that this week. He clearly has a different dimension of athleticism that nobody else can match, so that gives offense and play-callers the ability to use him in different ways. Any team that gets him is going to have a chance to expand their offense.

Willis didn’t go through athletic testing at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, so there aren’t a ton of numbers available. But the top speed NFL Network reported for Willis was at over some 20 miles per hour at points during the Senior Bowl.

If Willis can make all of this translate to the NFL level as he leaps from the college level to the pros, he is truly the best of both worlds as a true dual-threat quarterback. In the best-case scenario, he will not only overtake Ryan Tannehill sooner rather than later, but will also quickly become one of the league’s best signal-callers.

Related: Tennessee Titans schedule and game-by-game predictions

Worst-case scenario for Malik Willis in the NFL

malik willis, ryan tannehill
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Willis’ ceiling is sky-high. There’s no question about that. But he’s also got a concerningly low floor and it’s easy to get the sense there’s simply no middle-ground for a quarterback like this. He projects as a player who will either take the league by storm or go bust.

Willis showed several red flags as a passer in 2021, recording three performances with three interceptions in his final season college football.

Malik Willis stats (2021): 61% completion, 2,857 passing yads, 878 rushing yards, 40 total TD, 12 INT

While Willis has a wide array of tools and was by far the flashiest quarterback in his class, he’s in many regards still an unpolished prospect who must continue to show development in footwork and throwing the football.

If Willis isn’t able to maintain the momentum he gained in the offseason from a passing perspective, he’ll quickly falter and fall completely off the radar. This is true even if he’s able to use his mobility to buy time (as all running quarterbacks do by nature).

Regardless, it will prove most advantageous for Willis to sit for a year to develop if possible, though it doesn’t seem entirely impossible that Willis could assume the helm by 2022 season’s end depending upon Tannehill’s performance.

It’s a huge prove-it year for the veteran quarterback after he had some blunders in 2021 — finishing the season with 3,734 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. While Tannhill’s offensive line certainly wasn’t always doing him any favors, the signal caller had some mistakes in his own right. That was on full display when he tossed three interceptions in a 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs.

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