Former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis became one of the most scrutinized prospects during the NFL pre-draft process. After a successful college career, Willis appeared primed to become the next dangerous dual-threat QB whose potential had no ceiling.
After being compared to several quarterbacks in the 2022 draft class, only one would go in the first round, with Pittsburgh selecting Kenny Pickett 20th overall. While there was a high level of uncertainty entering the draft, many still felt like Willis was a candidate to become a first-round QB, only that wasn’t the case at all.
Instead, Willis saw Pickett plus Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder (74th overall pick) selected ahead of him. Willis’s wait would come to an end on the second day of the draft when the Tennessee Titans traded up to select the QB 86th overall.
As usual when selecting a quarterback in the first three or four rounds, this immediately sparked controversy in Tennessee. Ryan Tannehill was firmly entrenched as the team’s starter but was also coming off perhaps one of the worst performances of his career, throwing three interceptions in a three-point Divisional Round playoff loss.
Needless to say, the writing was on the wall. Only, the Titans organization continued to stand behind their starting quarterback of the past four seasons. But now the franchise has no choice but to give Willis a shot under center.
Ryan Tannehill’s loss is Malik Willis’s gain
Now with Tannehill falling ill while also dealing with an ankle sprain, the 34-year-old QB hasn’t been able to practice all week and has now been ruled out for Sunday’s showdown against the Houston Texans.
But Tannehill’s absence has only given the 23-year-old Willis a chance to receive first-team reps for the entire week of practice, helping him prepare for when he hears his number called for the first time in his NFL career.
In fact, according to Jim Wyatt, Willis will make the first start of his young career on Sunday.
Willis has a chance to provide a much-needed spark to the Tennessee offense that currently ranks 21st in scoring, averaging 19.2 points per game. Not only have the Titans struggled to pick up yards through the air (29th in NFL), but they have also struggled to establish the ground attack, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, which ranks 26th in the league.
In a perfect world, Willis would be able to help in both areas, but his development as a passer could take some time. Where Willis can instantly become an X-factor on gameday is by using his legs to his advantage, where his electric ability to make defenders miss in the open field could lead to several big gains on Sunday.
The Titans may be in good hands, at 4-2, atop the AFC South, but seeing what Willis can do against an inferior opponent could be the perfect recipe for discovering even more long-term success, even if it had to be due to injury.