Malik Willis

Ryan Tannehill Expected To Return In Week 10

The Titans have seen a glimpse of the future during their past two games, but their present starting quarterback should be available in Week 10. Ryan Tannehill is expected to make his return on Sunday, reports NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter).

The 34-year-old played through an ankle injury during Tennessee’s second win over Indianapolis this season. He was seen in a walking boot after that contest, though, leaving his immediate availability in question. The injury interrupted Tannehill’s fourth season with the Titans, during which he has thrown just six touchdowns in six games while averaging 183 passing yards per contest.

That has been driven in large part, of course, by the team’s commitment to Derrick Henry and the run game. Still, it does not represent the return to the form of previous years which he and the team were looking for. Given his age and contract status – the one-time Pro Bowler has a cap hit of $36.6MM next season, during which he is due a non-guaranteed salary of $27MM – Tannehill’s status as the starter was a topic of conversation in the offseason.

He was reportedly safe from the challenge of rookie Malik Willis entering the year, however, as the Liberty alum was seen as being in need of significant development time. It was the latter who filled in for Tannehill over the past two games. Looking to shelter him with an even more run-heavy approach, the Titans kept the third-rounder to just 26 pass attempts across their win over the Texans and loss to the Chiefs. Overall, Willis totaled 135 yards and an interception through the air, adding 52 yards on the ground.

With Tannehill back under center tomorrow, the Titans will look to rebound from that overtime primetime defeat against the struggling Broncos. Leading the AFC South at 5-3, Tennessee’s potential uptick in passing proficiency could help them secure a home playoff berth down the stretch, as Tannehill auditions to remain the team’s No. 1 QB.

Malik Willis To Remain Titans’ Starting QB In Week 9

With Ryan Tannehill still dealing with an ankle injury, he will be inactive for the second consecutive game, the Titans confirmed on Sunday. That will leave rookie Malik Willis as the team’s starter when they take on the Chiefs.

Tannehill suffered the injury two weeks ago, and his Week 8 availability was immediately thought to be in question. That led to Willis ultimately being named the starter for Tennessee’s 17-10 win over the Texans. Tannehill’s status was the subject of much scrutiny during the week in practice, and he traveled with the team to Kansas City over the weekend.

With the veteran unable to suit up again, though, Willis will retain the lead role. The third-rounder only threw 10 passes last week, as the team leaned even more heavily than usual on running back Derrick Henry, giving him 32 carries. The All-Pro racked up 219 rushing yards along with a pair of touchdowns, providing a formula the team might look to repeat tonight given Willis’ inexperience.

For the second consecutive week, Tennessee elevated Logan Woodside from the practice squad; he will dress as the backup tonight. Given that, and the difference in competition Willis will face from the Chiefs compared to the Texans, he may very well have to be more involved in the passing game. He showed an ability to move the ball with both his arms and legs during a highly productive stint at Liberty, and during his time in the preseason.

Of course, with Tannehill’s future beyond 2022 potentially in doubt, tonight’s primetime contest will also provide the Titans with another opportunity to evaluate the signal-caller drafted to be his successor. Willis and the 5-2 Titans will look to maintain their lead in the AFC South against a fellow division leader in the Chiefs.

Titans To Start Malik Willis At QB; Ryan Tannehill Ill

With starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill missing three days of practice this week due to illness, along with an ankle sprain, the Titans are set to give rookie third-round pick Malik Willis the first start of his career, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. After extended time leading the offense in the preseason, Willis will face the Texans this Sunday afternoon for his first full game of NFL football.

Willis started all three preseason games for the Titans this August. In his playing time, Willis was able to display the dual-threat ability that made him such an attractive draft pick. In three games, Willis completed 28 of 51 pass attempts for 318 yards, throwing two touchdowns and one interception. On the ground, he was able to add 159 rushing yards and a touchdown on only 14 attempts.

Willis’ regular season action has been extremely limited as Tannehill holds a pretty secure grip on the starting job. He did, though, make his NFL debut late in a Week 2 blowout loss to the Bills. Head coach Mike Vrabel threw Willis right into the fire against one of the league’s best defenses, and it didn’t go great. Willis completed one of four pass attempts for only six yards in garbage time. He was able to get some production out of his legs, gaining 16 yards on four rushes, but lost a fumble in the process.

Willis didn’t get a ton of time with the team’s top receivers in his preseason play but was afforded the opportunity to work with the first team offense all of this week in practice. Unfortunately for Willis, quarterback isn’t the only position affected by injury in Tennessee. The Titans are one of the league’s more battered teams with 13 players currently on injured reserve, six of those being on offense and three of those being his pass catchers. In addition to those 13, the Titans have two players, fullback Tory Carter and pass rusher Rashad Weaver, who are set to sit out this weekend.

Willis’ healthy targets will consist of receivers Robert Woods, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Cody Hollister, and Chris Conley and tight ends Geoff Swaim and Austin Hooper. He should also be assisted by a rookie quarterback’s best friend: a strong run game. Having star running back Derrick Henry to draw a defense’s focus should open up the field for the rookie quarterback to find some success in his first start.

Tannehill is listed as questionable and is likely available to play in case of emergency, but the illness may be a blessing in disguise, letting the Titans rest their starting quarterback while allowing his sprained ankle a little extra time to heal. Likely a step between Willis and emergency, the Titans have elevated quarterback Logan Woodside from the practice squad. They will elevate defensive lineman Larrell Murchison for the weekend, as well.

The Titans currently reside atop one of the NFL’s weaker divisions at 4-2. With the second-place Colts undergoing a transition at quarterback, Tennessee should feel fairly comfortable with their division lead, allowing them to make this play at quarterback. Tannehill will get some rest and Willis will get some experience.

Latest On Titans’ QB Situation

The Titans were one of several teams who used Day 2 of this April’s draft to add to their quarterback room. The addition of Malik Willis – who was seen by many as the signal-caller with the most upside in the 2022 class – led to questions about Ryan Tannehill‘s hold on the No. 1 spot. 

As confirmed by Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, however, “there is no competition or controversy” in Nashville at the position. Willis put up notable production after transferring to Liberty for the final two seasons of his college career, totaling 5,107 passing yards and 47 touchdowns. He added 1,822 yards and another 27 scores on the ground, showcasing the rushing ability which made him stand out from an underwhelming crop of prospects.

That, coupled with Willis’ preseason performances, fueled speculation that he could see the field relatively early. The Titans traded up to select him, and Tannehill’s disappointing 2021 season ended with a three-interception performance in the Divisional Round. The latter was not informed of the decision to draft Willis, but he has had a largely successful stint with the team and is due $27MM in 2022.

As a result, the Titans “fully expect” Tannehill to operate as the undisputed starter this season, where he will look to guide an offense no longer featuring A.J. Brown to another AFC-topping regular season. The team also publicly supported him in February, despite the underwhelming nature of his postseason. Given the $36MM cap charge he is scheduled to have in 2023 (along with no guaranteed money), however, Rapoport and Pelissero acknowledge that things could be very different for Tannehill one year from now.

The 34-year-old put up two touchdowns and a passer rating of 106.4 during yesterday’s loss to the Giants. His ability to improve on that performance throughout the season will be worth watching as his potential successor remains on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

AFC South Notes: Willis, Funchess, Ngakoue

Titans rookie quarterback Malik Willis impressed in limited time during the team’s Thursday night preseason game. Willis ran the offense for the first half against the Ravens and ran one play in the second half before taking his place on the sideline.

The third-round pick completed 6 of 11 pass attempts for 107 yards. Mirroring the playing styles of the quarterbacks on the opposite sideline, Willis added 38 yards rushing with a touchdown on five carries. He was sacked twice but managed not to turn the ball over in just over two quarters of play.

Despite the playing time he’s received so far this preseason, Willis is “very clearly the developmental quarterback” in the eyes of the Titans, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. While Tennessee is happy with his progress and will continue to let him get adjusted to the speed of the game this preseason, the prevailing sense is that Willis will be stashed for a bit of a redshirt year. There doesn’t seem to be any ideas of forcing Willis onto the field in any Wildcat-type packages, as has been done with other dual-threat quarterbacks in the past.

Here are a couple other rumors from the AFC South, both hailing from the Hoosier state:

  • Devin Funchess is attempting to make a strong comeback this year with a slight position shift. After spending the first five years of his career as a wide receiver, Funchess has spent the offseason working with the tight ends in Detroit. Funchess is looking to find his first regular season game action since a broken collarbone sidelined him in his first game with the Colts. Funchess joined Indianapolis on a one-year, $10MM deal in 2019, reportedly, so he could “be the top red zone target” for then-quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck shocked the world, including Funchess, when he retired a few months later. In an interview with Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Funchess remarked, “It was kind of a whirlwind having Andrew Luck retire on me. I went there basically for him. Turned down other opportunities and a lot more money to go play with him, so that was kind of a mental strain on me for that whole year.”
  • After spending time with four different franchises in his first six seasons, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue believes he has found a true home in Indianapolis, according to Zak Keefer of The Athletic. Ngakoue is one of the league’s more prolific pass rushers, accumulating 55.5 sacks in his six years of play and never missing more than one game in a season. Despite his continued success rushing the passer, Ngakoue has had trouble finding a team that will make a long-term commitment to him. Well, after only a couple of months in the state, Ngakoue seems to think he’s found the place he’d most like to stay. “There’s just something about Indiana,” Ngakoue told Keefer. “This is definitely where I want to be. This is where I’d love to retire.” If he continues his dominance over this two-year deal with the Colts, they should be more than willing to fulfill that wish.

Titans Sign QB Malik Willis, Wrap Up Draft Class

The Titans have finished signing their entire draft class. Jim Wyatt of the team’s website reports that the Titans have signed quarterback Malik Willis to his rookie contract.

After spending two seasons as a backup at Auburn, Willis emerged as a starting QB following his transfer to Liberty University. In 23 games between two seasons, Willis completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 5,107 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. He was also productive on the ground, rushing for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns on 338 carries.

Thanks to his performance in college, Willis was projected to be one of the first QB prospects off the board during the 2022 draft, with some pundits predicting that he could be a first-round pick. He ended up being the third QB selected (behind Kenny Pickett, Steelers and Desmond Ridder, Falcons), with the Titans taking Willis with the No. 86 pick in the draft.

During OTAs and minicamp, Willis was working behind Ryan Tannehill and Logan Woodside. There’s a good chance the rookie QB will slide in third on the dpeth chart for most of the 2022 campaign.

With the signing, the Titans have now signed their entire draft class:

Round 1: No. 18 (from Saints through Eagles) Treylon Burks, WR (Arkansas) (signed)
Round 2: No. 35 (from Jets) Roger McCreary, CB (Auburn) (signed)
Round 3: No. 69 (from Jets) Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT (Ohio State) (signed)
Round 3: No. 86 (from Raiders) Malik Willis, QB (Liberty)
Round 4: No. 131 Hassan Haskins, RB (Michigan) (signed)
Round 4: No. 143 Chig Okonkwo, TE (Maryland) (signed)
Round 5: No. 163 (from Steelers through Jets) Kyle Phillips, WR (UCLA) (signed)
Round 6: No. 204 Theo Jackson, CB (Tennessee) (signed)
Round 6: No. 219 Chance Campbell, LB (Ole Miss) (signed)

Poll: Which Rookie QB Will Make Most Starts In 2022?

As players widely linked to first-round destinations fell into the third, the long run of skepticism about this year’s quarterback class manifested itself. While this was the lowest-rated quarterback crop since at least the 2013 class, a few of these passers have paths to early playing time.

Russell Wilson‘s rapid rise notwithstanding, third-round QBs do not have an extensive track record for extended QB1 run as rookies. Only six non-Wilson Round 3 QBs (Joe Ferguson, Mike Glennon, Chris Chandler, Davis Mills, John Hadl and Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton) made at least 10 starts as rookies. (Wilson is the only third-round QB to start a full season.) The bar is low for the likes of Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis and Matt Corral, but they each landed in interesting situations.

Conversations around starter promotions for this year’s class must first include Kenny Pickett, who ended up going 54 spots before the next quarterback came off the board. The Pittsburgh alum, who will turn 24 next month, was a four-year starter at the ACC school. Pickett’s NFL entrance looks similar to new teammate Mitchell Trubisky‘s. The No. 2 overall choice in 2017, Trubisky unseated Glennon after the latter signed with the Bears that offseason. A value gap between being picked second and 20th certainly exists, but the Steelers clearly have Pickett penciled in as their long-term preference.

Four of the five QBs taken in last year’s first round were full-time starters by September, while three of the four 2020 first-rounders moved to the top depth chart position by October. The Steelers bumped 2004 No. 11 overall pick Ben Roethlisberger into their lineup in Week 3 of his rookie year, following a Tommy Maddox injury. How eager will they be to put Pickett out there? Trubisky has 50 career starts to his credit, and the oft-maligned Bears draftee rebuilt his value in Buffalo — to some degree — to create a bit of a market in March. A Trubisky-Mason Rudolph depth chart adds some fuel to a scenario in which Pickett waits a bit before taking the reins.

The second quarterback chosen this year, Ridder joins a Falcons team amid a full-scale rebuild. This is a similar situation to the one Mills walked into in Houston. Ridder started four seasons at Cincinnati, topping it off by helping the Bearcats become the first Group of Five team invited to the College Football Playoff. Marcus Mariota resides as Atlanta’s stopgap starter, and while Ridder’s No. 74 overall draft slot does not mandate a lengthy look as the team’s long-term arm, Mariota has not made it past October as a starter since 2018.

The former Arthur Smith Titans pupil would stand to buy Ridder time in a low-expectations season post-Matt Ryan, but Ridder has a clear path to an extended look — if he proves worthy in the coming months.

Willis’ tumble doubled as one of the modern draft’s most notable freefalls. Linked to teams in the top half of the first round, the Liberty prospect fell to No. 86, when the Titans traded up for him. Of the top QBs taken this year, Willis seemingly has the best chance for a full-on redshirt. Ryan Tannehill has not seen his job threatened since taking over for Mariota midway through the 2019 slate, though the Titans have featured one of the lowest-profile QB2 situations since Mariota left for Las Vegas.

Willis’ all-around skillset, which allowed the Auburn transfer to nearly put up a 3,000-1,000 season during a year in which he accounted for 40 touchdowns, will make things interesting for Tennessee — if the Titans struggle after losing a few key offensive starters.

Perhaps the biggest wild card here, Corral resides on a Panthers team that spent the past two offseasons trying to made a big quarterback splash. Sam Darnold still represents Carolina’s projected Week 1 starter, unless the team finally decides to acquire Baker Mayfield. The Panthers have balked at trading for the disgruntled Browns QB for several weeks, due to his $18.9MM fully guaranteed contract. Darnold and Corral’s performance this offseason may well determine if Mayfield ends up a Panther, with Matt Rhule on the hot seat and Darnold showing little — albeit behind a bad offensive line — in 2021. Corral finished last season with a 20-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio, adding 11 rushing scores, and led Ole Miss to its first major bowl game in six years.

Which quarterback will make the most starts for his team this season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

NFC Rumors: Cowboys, Falcons, Saints, Trask

Going into the 2022 offseason, the Cowboys knew that they needed to bolster their defensive line. Early reports rumored that Dallas had interest in adding a former rival in Jason Pierre-Paul, who spent eight years as a Giant before going to Tampa Bay.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Cowboys’ interest in Pierre-Paul seems to be waning, as Dallas believes they have “at least six capable edge rushers.” In the offseason, they added Dante Fowler through free agency and drafted Sam Williams out of Ole Miss last month. They’ll find themselves in the pass rushing rotation with the likes of Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Chauncey Golston.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC, starting with a few more rumors from Jeremy Fowler’s article:

  • Atlanta selected Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round, over every quarterback in the Draft, besides Kenny Pickett who was the only passer off the board at that point. Fowler reports that Ridder’s biggest competition for the pick was Liberty’s Malik Willis, but the Falcons felt that Willis lacked the signature moments at Liberty, even though he had incredible talent. Ridder, on the other hand, had a more complete body of work, in their opinion. It didn’t hurt that Ridder reportedly came to interviews with a plan on how to unseat a veteran starting quarterback wherever he landed.
  • Another team that was long rumored to be looking at quarterbacks in the Draft, New Orleans instead drafted wide receiver Chris Olave with their first round pick. According to Fowler, the Saints had no plans to draft a quarterback. They had Olave in their sights and, upon seeing Drake London and Garrett Wilson come off the board at Nos. 8 and 10 overall, they knew they needed to make a move to ensure Olave would be available. New Orleans apparently did an outstanding job of keeping their plans a complete mystery to the rest of the NFL.
  • With Tom Brady coming out of retirement to quarterback the Buccaneers, Tampa Bay has been evaluating their backup quarterback position. According to Greg Auman of The Athletic, Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen doesn’t see Kyle Trask competing with Blaine Gabbert for the backup job. This shouldn’t put Trask’s roster spot in jeopardy, though. Gabbert is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, but the plan for Trask was always for a post-Brady team. Tampa Bay is happy with Trask’s progress so far and will likely keep developing the 24-year-old for the future.

Seahawks To Hold QB Competition, Did Not View Malik Willis As NFL-Ready

To the surprise of most, the Seahawks have stood pat at quarterback since trading Russell Wilson. They did re-sign Geno Smith, who has been a backup for seven years, and are prepared to give him a legitimate shot to succeed Wilson.

Smith and Drew Lock are engaged in an open competition for the job, Brady Henderson of notes. Pete Carroll has praised Lock throughout the offseason and said during a KJR 93.3 appearance (via Pro Football Talk) Lock would have been the first quarterback taken had he been in this year’s draft.

[RELATED: Carroll Does Not Envision Seahawks Trading For QB]

Lock, who went 42nd overall to the Broncos in 2019, is entering a contract year. He has largely struggled as a starter, and while the ex-Mizzou prospect did play in two offensive systems in his first two years, Teddy Bridgewater beat him out for Denver’s QB1 job last year and held him off throughout the Broncos’ time in playoff contention. Lock replaced an injured Bridgewater in a close Week 15 game against the Bengals; the Broncos lost that game and their final three to finish 7-10. This came after the strong-armed passer tied for the 2020 interception lead, with 15, despite missing three-plus games.

Seattle also has ex-Indianapolis draftee Jacob Eason on its roster, but Lock-Smith appears to be the battle. Refusing to capitalize on the non-Kenny Pickett QB prospects’ collective freefall, the Seahawks did not select a QB with their nine draft picks. A player they were connected to, Malik Willis, did not appeal to them. Seattle did not view the Liberty prospect as close to NFL-ready, Henderson adds. Seattle passed on Willis, Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral three times on Day 2.

Smith, 31, has made five starts over the past seven seasons. Three of those came last season, his third with the Seahawks. The former second-round pick did show some promise, completing 68% of his passes on 7.4 yards per attempt — numbers superior to his Jets-era work, albeit in a small sample size — and finishing with a 5-to-1 TD-INT ratio. But he has been a backup on four teams since 2015.

If the Browns end up releasing Baker Mayfield, the Seahawks will surely look into adding him to this mix. They were connected to the four-year starter earlier this offseason, and he would seemingly give the team a better chance to win this season. For now, however, Lock has a legitimate opportunity to snag another starting gig.

Latest On Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

The Titans made things interesting in their quarterbacks room yesterday when they traded up to select Liberty quarterback Malik Willis with the No. 86 pick. Speaking with reporters, Titans GM Jon Robinson said the front office didn’t consult with veteran QB Ryan Tannehill before making the selection (via Terry McCormick of on Twitter). Further, the executive seemed to indicate that Willis’ playing time will be dependent on the rookie’s development (vs. Tannehill’s production).

[RELATED: Titans Trade Up To Select Malik Willis At No. 86]

“His role will be determined by how quickly he comes in here and learns the offense and improves and gains the respect of his teammates,” Robinson said (via ESPN’s Turron Davenport).

“[Willis] was the best player on the board, and we’re excited to have him on the team. Good arm, athletic, moves around well and has a really good skillset. He throws a good ball and is tough to tackle. He’s got a lot of work to do like all these rookies do.”

Tannehill has seen plenty of team success during his three years with the Titans, guiding the squad to a 30-13 regular season. However, you can’t blame the Titans for seeking a QB with a higher upside; Tannehill finished last season with only 21 touchdowns vs. 14 interceptions, and the Titans have had two-straight one-and-done appearances in the postseason.

Of course, yesterday’s move doesn’t necessarily indicate that Tannehill is slowly being pushed out of Tennessee. While some pundits believe Willis has first-round talent, he was still selected in the third round, a pick that’s easy to write off. Perhaps the Willis selection will even light a fire under Tannehill and solidify the 33-year-old as the team’s sure-fire starter going forward.