A talent that teetered between first-round hype and bust potential before he ever took an NFL snap, the first glimpse at Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis should provide a banner of optimism for head coach Mike Vrabel.
The NFL can’t help itself when it comes to players with elite athletic traits, and prospects like the former Liberty standout don’t come around often. While the level of competition concerns surrounded Willis during the pre-draft process and, in turn, the length of the grace period he’ll need to adjust to the speed and complexities of the NFL, given his ideal mobility and modern-day skill set, he has ‘face of the franchise’ written all over him.
First throw of the year for Malik Willis.
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) September 4, 2021
The first glimpse at Willis’ success outside of Liberty came via the Senior Bowl—an event that provided a window into the potential success he could enjoy early in his NFL tenure with similarly athletic talent around him. In Tennessee, although A.J. Brown is no longer, the faces of Derrick Henry, Robert Woods, and first-rounder Treylon Burks offer a nice core of athletes for Willis to work with if Vrabel opts to insert his dynamic skill set sooner rather than later into the Titans’ offense.
Along with the improvement in his touch and consistency shown against some of the country’s premier draft-eligible talent during the pre-draft process, from a 10,000-foot point-of-view, Willis is everything Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson could desire as their potential offensive captain as we move down the line. However, we have a long way to go until we get to that point, and Vrabel has already teased “redshirting” Willis this fall.
65-yard go-ball on the money to wrap up what was a 72-throw script for Malik Willis today.
Safe to say he impressed. pic.twitter.com/OC1OBvo0Wl
— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) March 22, 2022
Let me take you back to 2012 to a similar athlete. In a top-heavy draft of elite quarterback talent, Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III had every tool in the book to revitalize an organization. He was armed with a bazooka on his shoulder, track speed, ideal maneuverability in the pocket, and outstanding processing skills to sit and deliver within the hashes, but a division title that season highlighted what was a disappointing career in the nation’s capital.
Now, comparing Willis to Griffin III is fun from a skill set perspective, but with a much thicker frame and the body armor to hold up against the physical nature of the pro game, Willis is a vastly different prospect separated by a decade. However, Willis is arguably the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in the rookie class, and it isn’t close despite being taken in the third round.
The ceiling? Multiple division titles, resetting record books, leading the Titans past the elite of the AFC as a dynamic dual-threat talent. The floor? Well, Willis falling late into day two of the draft tells you all you need to know about where NFL teams project his success. And while the best athletes don’t always make the best football players, his makeup is something NFL scouts and general managers raved about throughout the evaluation process.
For the Titans, delivering balls with zip and accuracy is nice to see in a t-shirt and shorts, but when it comes to inserting him under center in the live fire of a game that counts, Willis showcased well in his preseason debut against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night.
MALIK WILLIS HAS ARRIVED.
— NFL (@NFL) August 12, 2022
No, everything wasn’t perfect, but Willis showcased everything Titans brass could hope for in his first taste of NFL action. Accurate throws downfield, the ability to stretch the defense horizontally with his legs, and delivering accurately at a multitude of arm angles saw him check off a ton of boxes in his first few drives under center.
After a shaky opening drive, Malik Willis has settled in nicely. pic.twitter.com/xc4CXdboPV
— Jaime Eisner (@JaimeEisner) August 12, 2022
He was impressive and considering presumed backup Logan Woodside tossed two interceptions, Willis could be sliding up the depth chart already.
Once the game slows down and he’s able to dissect what defenses are throwing at him, Willis’ performance ceiling is as lofty as any. A Ferrari athletically in comparison to Ryan Tannehill’s beat-down Pinto, Willis expands a playbook and would allow Tennessee to become a well-rounded offensive unit beyond the legs of Henry.