Malik Willis Shows Shades of Michael Vick in Titans Debut
Malik Willis was the best quarterback prospect available in the 2022 NFL Draft to many draft aficionados. However, he went to a small school in Liberty and doesn’t have elite height at 6-foot-1. This scared teams off, and the QB dropped until the Tennessee Titans traded up three spots to pick him No. 86 overall in the third round.
That draft position was 66 spots behind the first QB taken, Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was even 12 spots after QB2, Desmond Ridder of the Atlanta Falcons, went.
Despite the 24-hour-plus slide, Willis is now an NFL QB and may have landed in the best situation possible with the Titans. And after one preseason game, it looks like Mike Vrabel and the Titans may have a franchise-changing mid-round steal on their hands.
For longtime NFL fans, it’s not to see Willis’ first game wearing No. 7 and not think we could see Michael Vick 2.0.
Malik Willis looked like a young Michael Vick in his first Titans preseason game
Let’s get this out of the way first. Malik Willis’ debut was in his team’s first preseason game of the year. That means he was playing against players who might not even be in the league this year and against a defense doing its best not to give away anything from a scheme perspective.
That said, Willis looked impressive overall.
Willis started the game and, wearing No. 7, made several Michael Vick-like plays. There are three, in particular, that stand out.
The first was right out of the Vick playbook. On a 2nd-and-goal, Willis got flushed out of the pocket, spun left, raced around the corner, juked a defender, and dragged a defender into the end zone. It was rare QB athleticism on display.
Play No. 2 showed off Willis’ elite arm strength. The rookie dropped back from his own 24-yard line and launched a 45-yard bomb right on the money to WR Racey McMath. It wasn’t the same smooth lefty flick of Vick, but it was pretty close.
Finally, the last notable play was another athletic feat. As the Baltimore Ravens D chased him backward, Willis made a falling back, sidearm shovel pass to tight end Tommy Hudson for a first down. It was the type of off-schedule play only a few of the most athletic QBs in the NFL can make.
Along with the good Vick comparisons come the bad as well. At times, Willis made some questionable throws and held on to the ball too long. Like Vick as a young player, Willis doesn’t have the elite-level processing yet of the best pocket passers.
The young signal-caller told reporters as much after the game.
“I mean, you’ve got a lot to learn from, a lot to look at on film,” Willis told reporters, per NFL.com. “You know, I missed some things, probably, and I just made up for it with my legs and continued to rely on that, but that’s what preseason is for. So you just see those things against a live defense, one we hadn’t played before.”
The fact that Willis admitted his shortcomings and vowed to watch more film to make up for it has to make Titans fans happy, though.
His final stat line was 6-of-11 for 107 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and five carries for 38 yards and a TD. That worked out to an 88.1 passer rating.
In addition to showing off his talent, this game also showed why Tennessee is the perfect spot for Willis. Barring injury to Ryan Tannehill, Willis shouldn’t have to play this season on, what should be, a playoff team. He’ll get to sit and learn and unleash that athleticism and arm strength next season after a year of studying the NFL game.
The biggest danger now is if the Titans do struggle and Tannehill’s trademark inconsistency shows up in 2022, will head coach Mike Vrabel be able to fend off the calls from fans and media to give the rookie a try?