Malik Willis will immediately add wrinkles to Tennessee Titans offense
By Ian Schiller
The Tennessee Titans’ selection of Malik Willis opens up possibilities for the offense even in his rookie year.
While Willis will not be challenging for the starting role for the foreseeable future, the parts of his game that are NFL ready can add immediate value to the Titan’s offense that, at times last year, looked one-dimensional.
Willis’ speed and athleticism paired with his rocket launcher of an arm offer the possibility of immediate play-time in the form of special packages for the rookie.
The bottom line for Willis is that he has elite skills that you just can’t teach like his speed, arm strength, and playmaking ability when the heat is on.
However, what he does lack is polish in areas that will take time to refine. Things like his anticipation, pocket awareness, and throwing mechanics were all noted during his draft process and these will take time to get NFL ready.
Luckily, with former Texans coach Tim Kelly on staff, the quarterback is in good hands as far as development, Kelly knows how to use a weapon like Willis.
Kelly was crucial in the development of Deshaun Watson and Watson raved about Kelly’s work with the Houston offense, even pushing for Kelly to have an expanded role in the play-calling after Bill O’Brien’s firing.
Kelly’s role is a bit undefined by Coach Vrabel’s own admission, but undoubtedly he will help the offensive coaching staff develop plays and packages that will benefit Tannehill and, in the long run, Willis.
While Watson was much more NFL ready than Willis when he was drafted, Willis’ play style has drawn comparisons to the 2020 MVP candidate.
What can Tennessee Titans fans expect from Willis this season?
I would not be surprised to see some limited chances for Willis to play some snaps immediately in the regular season.
With his athleticism, Willis should get to moonlight in the offense this season as a change of pace weapon brought out in special packages designed by coach Tim Kelly that I could see being used near the goal line or on the opponents’ side of the field when the defense is stacking the box against Derrick Henry.
For reference, think about plays where the Titans might have used Derrick Henry in the wildcat previously.
The main goal here would not be for Willis to make many decisions, rather, the goal would be to spread the defense out and force them to play the whole field to open things up for Henry.
These packages will most likely be RPO plays where Willis will be handing off to Henry in the shotgun which he is currently most familiar with from his time at Liberty, with the option to keep it and run himself or quickly pass out of it.
Sub-packages could look similar to the style of offense that the Miami Dolphins are trying to bring in with Mike McDaniel.
The Tennessee Titans offense has already enjoyed success using Ryan Tannehill as a runner in designed read-option scenarios, especially in the redzone. So the foundation is already in place for Willis to be injected into similar situations this season which would lower the hits on Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill.
Overall, Willis will not be asked to do much but should make some appearances throughout the season in this kind of role.
Using him in this way could force defenses to load up the box to stop the two running options which would make the reads easier for Malik Willis as a passer. A simple RPO with Henry and Willis showing a run up the middle and to the right respectively with a backside slant option to someone like Robert Woods, Treylon Burks, or Kyle Philips, could be very hard to stop.
In the Tennessee Titans’ rookie minicamp, Willis demonstrated some promise and he only made one critical error with his interception to Theo Jackson. However, you cannot take too much from these minicamps, but if Willis can continue to limit mistakes and learn the offense, he has the tools to get on the field this year in a limited capacity and convince the Titans coaching staff that he is worth building an offense around down the road.