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How Willis' Preseason Debut Compared to Other Drafted QBs

The Titans rookie ran the ball more than most, which was not necessarily a good thing in the eyes of his coaches.

NASHVILLE – Mike Vrabel has made it abundantly clear in recent days that he wanted to see rookie quarterback Malik Willis throw the ball more than he did in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

When Willis scrambled for 17 yards on the second play of the second half, Vrabel had seen enough. The Tennessee Titans coach called on veteran backup Logan Woodside, who played the rest of the way in the 23-10 defeat.

Willis, the third-round pick out of Liberty University, finished the night 6-11 passing for 107 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also ran for 38 yards and Tennessee’s only touchdown on five attempts.

“I think there was some good and some room for improvement,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “I thought he showed timing and accuracy in some throws, and then there were a couple where I’m sure he wished he had it back and pulled the trigger on a couple things.”

It was a performance of prominent highlights but one that also highlighted how much Willis must learn before he challenges Woodside for the spot as Tennessee’s No. 2 quarterback, let alone Ryan Tannehill’s status as the starter.

But how did it compare to others in the same situation?

Willis was the third of nine quarterbacks selected in the 2022 NFL Draft (Tennessee got him with the 86th pick) and eight of the nine saw game action on the first weekend of the preseason. The results were a mixed bag with some who clearly performed better than the Titans’ rookie and others who had a much more difficult time of things.

Here are some of the particulars:

• Willis and Miami’s Skylar Thompson, a seventh-round choice, were the only ones to start for their respective teams. Thompson, however, played the entire contest and threw 28 passes (he completed 20), second only to New England’s Bailey Zappe (32 passes).

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• Willis was one of five who completed more than 50 percent of his throws. His average of 17.8 yards per completion – on the strength of a 48-yard connection with Racey McMath – was best among that group.

• Willis was one of three who did not throw a touchdown passes and one of seven who did not throw an interception.

• Willis’ five rushing attempts ranked second among the group as did his 38 rushing yards. His average of 7.6 yards per rush was third best. Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder, taken 12 spots ahead of Willis, topped him on all fronts.

• Willis was one of two who scored a rushing touchdown.

A rundown of the passing and rushing statistics from Week 1 of the preseason for the nine quarterbacks selected in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Player, TeamDraftedPassingRushing

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

First round

13-15 95 yards, 2 TD 0 INT

3-16

Desmond Ridder, Atlanta

Third round

10-22 103 yards, 2 TD 0 INT

6-59

Malik Willis, Tennessee

Third round

6-11 107 yards,0 TD 0 INT

5-38, 1 TD

Matt Corral, Carolina

Third round

1-9 11 yards, 0 TD 0 INT

1-6

Bailey Zappe, New England

Fourth round

19-32 205 yards, 1 TD 1 INT

1-2

Sam Howell, Washington

Fifth round

9-16, 145 yards, 0 TD 0 INT

3-19, 2 TD

Chris Oladokun, Pittsburgh

Seventh round

DNP

DNP

Skylar Thompson, Miami

Seventh round

20-28 218 yards, 1 TD 0 INT

3-25

Brock Purdy, San Francisco

Seventh round

3-6 36 yards, 1 TD 0 INT

3-(-4)

The expectation is that Willis will continue to see significant playing time throughout the preseason. Tennessee hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday and then the Arizona Cardinals a week after that.

The hope is that he also will show improvement every time out.

“It’s a brand new system for any young quarterback who comes into the NFL,” quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara said. “So, there’s a process there that you build on. Each day, we’re trying to get a little better at it.

“It’s a process and a patience level that I’m comfortable with.”