Nobody made more of an impact on the opening night of preseason than Malik Willis. The Titans’ rookie QB played one half against the Ravens, and made himself impossible to ignore. It’s astonishingly early, but Twitter was abuzz with people already dubbing him “the steal of the draft,” and prepared to anoint him as the next great one. We can pump the brakes on that for now, but what we saw was very, very promising.
Willis played limited time, going 6-for-11 with 107 yards through the air, rushing for another 38 yards on the ground, including a touchdown. His performance was reminiscent of his time at Liberty — and that’s huge. One of the biggest questions about Willis prior to the draft is whether his game against sub-par competition in college would translate to the NFL. While it’s true he didn’t play against the Ravens’ top-flight defense, he still shredded NFL-caliber players, and never looked like the moment overwhelmed him.
I’ll be honest, I did not expect the transition to go this smoothly, this early. Prior to the NFL Draft he was the No. 1 QB on my board, and I believed he was the one quarterback in 2022 with the potential to become a superstar. Willis possessed rare arm talent, with a knack for scrambling only when the pocket broke down and passing became impossible.
“What makes Willis such a rare commodity is his short-yardage rushing ability, paired with one of the best arms I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not just that Willis possesses power, it’s his touch on deep passes that sets him apart from everyone else in this class. He seems to just have an innate feeling for how to target defensive backs deep, and routinely places the ball where only his receiver can get it.”
We saw exactly this against the Ravens, when he dropped a deep ball right in the bucket to Racey McMath after it traveled 53 yards through the air.
This isn’t just howitzer strength, it was an anticipation throw that trusted the receiver in his break — while ensuring the safety wasn’t free over the top to make a play on the ball. This is a big time NFL throw, and not something you’d expect from a third round pick. Of course, as far as I’m concerned, Willis should never have been a third round pick.
Another pass, albeit riskier in execution, was this scrambling side-arm pass to tight end Tommy Hudson.
The ball comes out with velocity out of an unstable base, and picks up the first down. This isn’t something you’d want to see every day, but it’s nice to see that he has play-extending ability with his arm, as well has his legs.
Finally was the big highlight that everyone talked about, Willis’ touchdown run.
This wasn’t a designed run, or a player who made his decision to run when the ball way snapped. Willis stayed in the pocket, went through his first and second reads, THEN avoided the rush and ran for a touchdown. This is a big time play that is not wholly dissimilar to the types of runs Josh Allen makes when his pocket breaks down.
Yes, it’s all very early — but everything Willis did last night showed glimpses of an elite quarterback. There is a long way to go. He’ll need to break down defenses on film, deal with adversity when games matter, and adjust to defenses keying in on him after watching film to scheme against him.
Still, the future is ludicrously bright, and the sky looks to be the limit. Congratulations Titans fans, you got a good one.
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