Why Malik Willis isn’t likely to start at quarterback for the Titans in 2022

One of the biggest draft day stories this season was: where will Malik Willis end up?

NFL reporters and fans made him a potential top 10 pick, to the point where he was in the green room for the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Willis would only join the Titans in the third round, who have the best running back in the NFL with Ryan Tannehill at the helm and a relatively stable quarterback situation.

The former Liberty quarterback was unsurprisingly humble after his precipitous fall.

However, as we often see with drafted quarterbacks, the conversation around Willis just shifted to: when might we see him in games, and what does it take to win him?

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According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, it doesn’t look like Willis will step up and snag the starting job for 2022.

“Willis is clearly the development quarterback, and even if he does get reps in the second team, the goal seems to be to get him behind the scenes as a redshirt,” Fowler wrote this week.

Also, it doesn’t seem like the Titans want to go crazy by using it in a gimmicky sense. “I don’t have a feeling the Titans are going to roll out Willis for a Wildcat-type package. He’ll be hidden,” Fowler said.

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This shouldn’t be a groundbreaking revelation for NFL fans. The Titans are clearly trying to make a deep playoff push after losing their last two playoff games since the AFC Championship Game in 2019. Also, they are an offense based on running the ball with Derrick Henry and putting Tannehill in play.

Why Malik Willis won’t start for the Titans in 2022

In all honesty, the Titans didn’t have to call up Willis. They have Tannehill for another two seasons and he has been more than useful to them. His style fits perfectly with what the Titans have wanted to do since Arthur Smith called the plays: a guy who’s comfortable under middle and can effectively direct play action.

As far as the Titans are concerned, they’re in a Super Bowl window right now, and that means there’s no need to spoil the mood in Nashville with a rookie quarterback in need of an offensive philosophy shift.

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The Titans also have a team built around their running game. Like Tannehill, Henry is in the final two years of his contract, which is significant.

That means the titans have time in 2022 and 2023 to advance their current composition, and if they continue to fall short they can reassess. Willis will give them the opportunity to spin in a new direction if they wish.

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What does it take for Malik Willis to take the starting job?

In two words? Absolute disaster.

Tannehill is a veteran, and he’s been stable in his Tennessee career. He has 76 touchdowns and 27 interceptions, but 2021 raised some red flags for the quarterback.

Notably, Tannehill threw 14 interceptions, his highest total since his sophomore season in 2013. If those interceptions cost the Titans – who went 12-5 with him last season – games, it might be worth another look.

An injury to Henry could also change the equation. The Titans’ offense was hampered and neutered without Henry last season as Tannehill lost the play-action option to some extent. Four of Tannehill’s picks came against the Texans in a brutal 22-13 loss that deservedly be treated as a breakaway. But even if he removes his worst play, Tannehill’s 10 picks would still be a cheer for the Titans.

The Titans would have to fall completely on their faces out of the gate for Willis to see starting reps this year. No doubt they hope this is not the case.

What were Malik Willis’ stats last year?

Willis played his junior and senior years at Liberty after starting his college career at Auburn.

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His 2021 stats, while impressive in their own right, were just part of the hype that was building around him post-college.

Statistics 2021

207/339 61.1% 2,857 27 12 197 878 4.5 13
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The first thing you’ll notice is that Willis’ pass attempts to rush attempts are under 2-1. He was a pure dual-threat QB at Liberty, which again differs from what the Titans are trying to do.

His completion percentage can be improved, but with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of Above 2:1, there is a lot to do.

The Titans are part of the top of a very top-heavy AFC. While the Chiefs and Bills have been at the top year after year, the Titans have been secretly in the mix in each of the past few seasons.

However, the urgency is undoubtedly increasing. The Titans didn’t design Willis for nothing, and unless they plan to use him in the Wildcat sense this year, it stands to reason they have other plans. Willis has the temperament to sit and study behind Tannehill for a year. Perhaps it will pay off for third-round selection in the not-too-distant future.

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