At the 2022 NFL Draft, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was labeled as a raw talent and the potential to develop into a good NFL QB.
The flashes of talent he displayed during his two years at Liberty enchanted scouts with visions of dual-threat QBs like Lamar Jackson, which further boosted his attractiveness.
But as the draft progressed, Willis tumbled down the board until the Tennessee Titans traded up with the Las Vegas Raiders to select him in the third round with the 86th overall pick.
Some celebrated the selection while others, like CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, bashed him.
“He’s not a quarterback,” exclaimed a defiant Prisco. “What he did at Liberty is not close to playing quarterback in the NFL. He looks like a running back. He tucks the ball, one read and run…I don’t like the player. I think he’s a second or third-round pick in my book.”
Prisco got the last part of his tirade right. And to be fair, Willis did nothing last season to justify his potential.
The team went 1-2 with Willis as its starter, during which he threw for 276 yards with 0 TDs and 3 INTs. He also rushed for 123 yards and 1 TD.
His detractors are quick to criticize his performance but fail to acknowledge that Willis was a rookie on a team that lacked weapons outside of Derrick Henry.
Heading into this season, the team created a new challenge for Willis when they selected Kentucky QB Will Levis in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Many thought that decision would push Willis to third string or entirely off the team. Instead, Levis got hurt and Willis responded with performances that have given the Titans hope about his future.
While not overwhelming this preseason, he did demonstrate potential and a better grasp of the game.
In three games, he threw for 485 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs. He also rushed for 130 yards and 1 TD while leading the Titans to a 2-1 record. And while it’s the preseason, it’s still an improvement over his three regular season starts.
“Love the way that he competed, loved it,” said Vrabel of Willis after the team’s final preseason game. “Got to eliminate the mistakes.”
One of the challenges of being a developmental quarterback, especially a Black one, is that the benefit of the doubt is very limited. Just ask Jalen Hurts about his first two years with the Eagles. He went from being called a waste of a pick, to being doubted at the end of Doug Pederson’s tenure in Philly to barely being named the starter before the start of his second season.
But in year three, Hurts flourished, became an MVP candidate, and almost led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl victory.
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