Malik Willis preseason debut, highlights: Titans rookie shows upside with strong play vs. Ravens

malik willis preseason debut, highlights: titans rookie shows upside with strong play vs. ravens

Malik Willis preseason debut, highlights: Titans rookie shows upside with strong play vs. Ravens

Malik Willis experienced his first NFL game action Thursday. The third-round rookie out of Liberty started for the Titans with No. 1 QB Ryan Tannehill sitting out Week 1 of 2022 NFL preseason.

There were high hopes for Willis’ debut. He had earned buzz as a potential first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft and posted strong numbers — 2,857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; 878 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns — in his final season at Liberty.

He didn’t disappoint.

MORE: Why Malik Willis fell to third round of 2022 NFL Draft despite first-round buzz

Willis played just over half the game. He wasn’t perfect, but he produced big-time highlights that showcased his explosive playmaking ability. The Sporting News breaks down his performance.

Highlights from Malik Willis’ Titans debut

Willis didn’t get off to a great start. He was under constant pressure on the game’s first drive and almost threw an interception as the Titans went three-and-out.

Willis failed to complete each of his first three passes and it looked as if Tennessee might struggle to move the ball against the Ravens. But after three fruitless drives, he began to show off his two biggest assets: his arm strength and his mobility.

The mobility showed first. The Titans made a concerted effort to get him on the move after the Ravens’ pass rush rattled him early. That meant more bootleg passes that gave him the option to run.

IYER: Ranking the NFL’s starting quarterbacks from best to worst

These roll-outs set Willis up to score the first touchdown of his preseason. He capped a 72-yard drive with an impressive 7-yard touchdown run during which he sharply changed direction and outran the defense to the corner of the end zone.

Once Willis began moving more and completed a couple of short passes, he was able to perform better as a passer.

On his first play after his touchdown, he and the Titans elected to take a deep shot against the Baltimore defense. He threw his best pass of the night, locating it perfectly and allowing Racey McMath to make an easy 48-yard reception.

That toss put the Titans in scoring range, but another throw on drive stood out, too. On a second-and-4, Willis was under pressure when he threw sidearm to tight end Tommy Hudson, who rumbled 5 yards for a first down.

Willis played a few snaps after halftime. He ripped off a 17-yard scramble before exiting the game for good. Overall, he completed 6 of 11 passes for 128 yards and an 88.1 passer rating. He rushed for 38 yards and a touchdown on five carries.

MORE: Why Malik Willis isn’t expected to start for Titans in 2022

There were blips on the radar. Willis misfired high on some throws and was sacked twice, including once at the end of the first half.

Still, the positives outweighed the negatives. Willis showed that he has the tools to be a future starter. He’ll need time to develop them. That’s why he isn’t expected to overtake Tannehill as the Titans’ starter during his rookie season.

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