Tennessee Titans can’t accurately judge Malik Willis this season

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports /

Since the Ryan Tannehill injury in December, fans have seen the Tennessee Titans struggle to decide who should be the one to lead this team for the rest of the season.

After two chances for Malik Willis, the team gave Joshua Dobbs a chance to see what he could do against the Dallas Cowboys.

That was a relatively clean game despite having no help around him, and that performance has led to Joshua Dobbs getting the start over Malik Willis in the crucial Week 18 matchup. This can’t have been what the Tennessee Titans’ coaching staff wanted when they spent the season coaching Malik Willis and now fans are wondering what the long-term plan of the Titans actually is.

While these concerns have already been deemed premature and shortsighted, I want to take a look back at what Malik Willis was coming to the Titans as a third-round pick and reassert what the expectations were for the season as well as how he has developed to this point.

Remember why the Tennessee Titans drafted Malik Willis

Let’s go back to when we heard “With the 86th pick in the third round of the 2022 draft, the Tennessee Titans selected Malik Willis out of Liberty.”

Though Willis had extreme hype going into the draft, with some reports going to say he could be taken as high as number 2 overall, the Titans got Willis with a relatively low-risk pick for a quarterback with such high upside.

However, there were significant concerns regarding how his game would not quickly translate to the NFL level. NFL.com lists his weaknesses as a draft prospect that contain incredibly important things for NFL quarterbacks such as not being able to handle pressure, accuracy and mechanics issues, and missing the easy throws.

This is not to say that Willis was terrible in college, but it was clear to everyone that Malik Willis needed years to sit behind another quarterback and refine his craft to a point that he could use all his physical gifts correctly and reach his wildly high ceiling as an NFL quarterback.

Therefore, the expectations of the season were for him not to play at all, and if he did play, fans needed to expect an underdeveloped quarterback staging at being NFL-ready.

Sadly, Ryan Tannehill has suffered a litany of ankle injuries over the course of this season, and Malik Willis was thrust into action, where he certainly was not ready. This was shown in his first start where the coaching staff only asked him to throw the ball ten times throughout the entire game.

This was actually followed up by what I thought was a very good performance from Willis against the Kansas City Chiefs, where he made some nice throws and began to look a bit more comfortable facing NFL defenses. This is not to say that he was particularly impressive, but you could see the flashes of brilliance that caused him to be such a hyped draft prospect.

However, after a painful Week 16 loss to the Houston Texans, the starting and relative competency of Josh Dobbs has switched the fanbase’s tune on Malik Willis, where some are saying he should be much farther along than he is.

Malik Willis is exactly on track for what was expected of him. No one wanted him to start at all this year and some did not want him to start through next year. I believe it is unfair to say that Malik Willis should be doing more based on not only his expectations coming into the season but the complete lack of help he is getting from one of the worst offensive coaching staffs in the NFL.

Tennessee Titans fans who are ready to move on from Willis continually cite rookie quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes that looked good in limited action at the end of his rookie season, but this does not take into account the quality that surrounds the prospect.

I believe Andy Reid can develop quarterbacks efficiently, but I certainly do not trust Todd Downing to do the same. This is not even mentioning the horrendous protection that Malik had to endure every snap while he was trying to “develop”.

I fully agree that Josh Dobbs should be starting this win-and-in game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars this Saturday, but many people equate liking Dobbs with disliking Willis. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Dobbs has been in the league for years and understands how to be an NFL quarterback, granted not a very good one. Willis has not been given that same opportunity, and because of that, does not give the Titans the best chance to win.

I believe with how the Titans are currently assembled from both a coaching and roster standpoint, no rookie quarterback could ever succeed. I have seen fans wishing for the Tennessee Titans to lose so they could trade up and take someone like C.J. Stroud, but this wouldn’t solve the real issue.

This coaching staff and a roster that can’t stay healthy are nearly impossible to overcome, and before they make a huge move to grab a quarterback they have to focus on building the foundations that any QB would need to succeed. Only then, could we accurately judge Malik Willis’ development and decide whether he is the future of the franchise or not.