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Will Malik Willis be on Tennessee’s roster this upcoming season? In a question and answer session on the Titans website, team reporter Jim Wyatt, when asked about Willis’ future there, wrote that Willis’ roster spot isn’t guaranteed, even with the new rule allowing for a third quarterback to dress on game days. Of course, Wyatt provided more nuance as he expanded his answer and even predicted that Willis will make the team after not believing he would do so as recently as May.
But in short, with Ryan Tannehill entrenched as the starter and Will Levis taken with the No. 33 overall pick in the 2023 draft, Willis is up against it entering Year 2.
Here’s what I wrote on Willis in my scouting gradebook, before the 2022 draft:
“Smaller, thick high-end athlete with strong arm. Accuracy is good to all levels. Naturally puts the ball precisely where it needs to be. Pocket presence needs work but a lot of the times he takes hits in the pocket when he holds onto it too long because he feels he can make a play with his legs. Will take some bad sacks. When he’s throwing from clean pocket or even on the run, the ball placement and especially the velocity are there. Can legitimately make any throw, from any platform and/or arm angle. Legitimate designed run game ability because of his athleticism and vision as a runner. Effortless acceleration too. Quick and deceptively flexible. Coverage reading needs work, but I admire his aggression as a passer. Big-time throws all over his film. Will make some bad decisions. His arm can bail him out often. Must take fewer hits at next level. Immense talent that’s not as boom or bust as many think but has All-Pro upside.”
Maybe that report will be woefully wrong in a few seasons, and I’ll own the miss if it happens. And as a draft analyst, misses stink. But they come with the job title. There does come a point when a player’s NFL performance is more predictive than a collegiate scouting report.
That point is not after 61 professional attempts throwing to arguably the worst receiver group in football. That’s where we are on Willis’ NFL resume to date.
Let’s say the Titans do cut him at the end of training camp. Or trade him before that. I, for one, think he desperately needs a change of scenery. What are Willis’ ideal landing spots? Here’s a look.
Presumed starter: Sam Howell
Quarterback depth: Jacoby Brissett, Jake Fromm
While he rose to prominence during the Patrick Mahomes era, Washington’s new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was integral in Alex Smith’s resurgence before Mahomes took over in Kansas City, and those Chiefs offenses astutely tapped into Smith’s athleticism as a runner and scrambler.
And with Mahomes, particularly in 2022, Bieniemy demonstrated keen scheming skills, as even without Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s offense hummed as efficiently as always. Without anyone locked into a long-term starting role at quarterback, I’d love to see Bieniemy work with a passer as naturally gifted as Willis. The veteran coordinator could easily deploy RPOs and an assortment of easy, one-read looks for Willis as the former Liberty passer develops as a professional.
Presumed starter: Daniel Jones
Quarterback depth: Tyrod Taylor
Clearly the Giants prioritize plus athleticism at the quarterback position with Jones and Taylor atop their depth chart. But Taylor turns 34 in August, and while he probably could still juke a defender or two, he’s likely not as springy as he was in his prime. Jones was rewarded with a four-year contract this offseason, but it effectively can be a two-year, $82 million deal with $18M in dead cap if New York isn’t happy with Jones’ trajectory after the 2024 campaign.
Without any type of legitimate, project-y, long-term developmental type at quarterback on the roster, and given head coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen’s time spent with Josh Allen in Buffalo, it’d be sensible if the club gravitated toward someone with Willis’ supreme raw gifts.
Presumed starter: Jared Goff
Quarterback depth: Nate Sudfeld, Hendon Hooker
Curveball! Yes, the Lions picked Hooker in the third round in April — after rumors swirled about him possibly being selected Round 1. But Willis is more than a year younger than Hooker, and while the club raves about Goff, we shouldn’t expect an upstart team like the Lions to be fully committed to him in the long run as they ascend the ranks in the NFC.
Wills wouldn’t pose an immediate, 2023 threat to Goff’s starting gig, and sure, his presence would take away some of Hooker’s practice reps, but the competition he’d provide Hooker would likely bring out the best in both quarterbacks.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is a progressive mind who, in theory, could even work Willis into the offense in a sub-package, gadget-type weapon. And Willis’ talents clearly jibe with what Detroit wants offensively — to be more explosive. Back-to-back first-round selections of wideout Jameson Williams and Jahmyr Gibbs prove that.
Presumed starter: Kyler Murray
Quarterback depth: Colt McCoy, Clayton Tune, Jeff Driskel
No team is more clearly at the ground floor of its rebuilding process than the Cardinals. At this stage, no idea is a bad idea. The roster is years away from being seriously competitive again, and the future of Murray is murky despite the five-year deal he signed before the 2022 season that featured $103M guaranteed when his name was written on the dotted line.
The presence of the highly athletic Tune makes Arizona a less intriguing landing spot for Willis, that’s for sure. But new head coach Jonathan Gannon had a front-row seat to the methodical rise Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, and Willis has a similar skill set. Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing most recently learned under the quarterback-friendly ways of Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland. Theoretically, he’d understand how to accentuate Willis’ mobility in his scheme.
Presumed starter: Geno Smith
Quarterback depth: Drew Lock, Holton Ahlers
No one is tantalized more by a possible quarterback reclamation project than gum-chomping head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle. And check that quarterback room! Tiny!
Like Smith, Willis’ ability to spin the football will never be questioned. He can really rip it and has more electricity in his legs. Last season, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron did a marvelous job creating an offense that resembled the Air Raid attack Smith operated at West Virginia. He finished the 10th-most passes of 20-plus yards and had the league’s best touchdown-to-interception ratio (15:2) on those deep launches. Willis needs an offense like Seattle’s. Waldron, a young but surprisingly stout offensive front, and DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett plus a pair of compact, bouncy running backs could provide Willis a comfortable environment to start the next chapter of his NFL career.
Smith turns 33 in October.
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