THE NEVER-ENDING QB2 BATTLE
Well, well, well. We’ve gotten to a point in the season where the main topic of discussion during the preseason has revisited the fanbase here in October.
Let’s get right to it. The Titans remaining schedule looks like this, vs. Falcons, then on a short week at Steelers, mini-bye, at Buccaneers, at Jaguars, vs. Panthers, vs. Colts, at Dolphins, vs. Texans, vs. Seahawks, at Texans, and vs. Jaguars.
Nine out of ten teams they’re playing have something to play for. Anything can happen on a week to week basis in the NFL but trading away Kevin Byard signifies this team wants to see what they have in younger/less experienced players. And usually when you do that, there are growing pains.
It would be cool to see Malik Willis play at home vs. his home state Falcons. Coach Vrabel said he could play, whether that be starting or some sort of dual QB rotation.
It would also be cool to see how Will Levis looks vs. starters in the NFL. I’ll share my honest opinion on that later in the article.
Will Levis is this regime’s handpicked, chosen QB of the future. Although it’s not as dramatic as that sounds, because he could certainly not be the guy and even be replaced next year or the year after, but coaches and evaluators want to see their guy do well. That’s why no matter what, Levis will always have the upper hand when it comes to the final choice. Of course, Malik Willis has not helped himself. He’s made the choice difficult but he has made discussions around the topic too cryptic. The Titans are just trying to protect their young QBs and give the team a functional offense. I commend Mike Vrabel and coaches for not divulging too much or leaving out innuendos publicly to harshly critique either QB thus far. I’ve seen patience and an extremely professional approach to a unique situation.
TITANS NEVER COMMITTED TO MALIK WILLIS
With all that being said, here’s the polarizing take. I don’t think the Titans have committed one iota to Malik Willis being THE GUY. Which makes me think not only was the A.J. Brown trade flabbergasting to most in that organization but the 2022 draft as a whole. Speaking specifically about Willis, it’s fair to say that he was a Jon Robinson pick all the way. I could be wrong but we have enough knowledge about Vrabel to say he values football I.Q., precision, and competitive fire. That’s not to say Willis doesn’t have those qualities but he hasn’t consistently shown those attributes. If he did, he’d 100% be the starter without hesitation with Ryan Tannehill out. The lack of commitment was reinforced when they took Levis 33rd overall, who some believed was a Ryan Tannehill doppelgänger. Their lack of trying to mold this offense for Malik’s skillset is apparent. Last season they’d much rather use him like Percy Harvin than actually try to build an offense around his athleticism like the Eagles have done with Jalen Hurts, like the Bears have done with Justin Fields and the Ravens with Lamar Jackson.
Let me put it like this, I’ll excuse Jackson because he’s exceptionally more athletic but I scouted Hurts, Fields and Willis and Willis was the best natural runner out of those two. NOW (important to pay attention here) the Eagles and Bears have used their QB’s talent better. That’s the difference in NFL production so far.
For objective data, here is what they all did on the ground in college. Willis: 37 games played 366 attempts, 2131 yards 29 TDs, 5.8 YPC. Fields: 34 games played 260 attempts, 1133 yards 19 TDs, 4.4 YPC. Hurts: 56 games played 614 attempts, 3274 yards 43 TDs, 5.3 YPC. Level of talent he was going up against aside, you can observe how much more explosive he is as a runner and he protects himself well.
You eventually have to throw the ball in the NFL but the threat to run makes passing easier. And when you have a plus one QB so much can be worked off of that. Creating clear and defined reads and throws isn’t some new age concept to implement for QBs who don’t see the whole field well. There’s ways to work around his deficiencies that the Titans just aren’t willing to do.
WILL LEVIS – THE STARTER IN WAITING
As for Will Levis he’s the prince in waiting. Like I said earlier the Titans have done a good job of presenting a fair competition, which it was. But now as we get to the nitty-gritty, you will start to see them sway to the inevitable. They have to see what Levis can do but he’s a rookie, so more importantly, they just want him to get experience. They want him to see things in live action and learn from the good and bad. The offense is literally tailor-made for him. He has athleticism, but it should not be a staple for him at this level. He’ll make some hero plays every now and then, but his playstyle is sometimes erratic, and that leads to mistakes and injuries. A lot of people comp’d Levis to Ryan Tannehill and Josh Allen, but I see more of a Carson Wentz type of player. At his best, Levis can be Pro Bowl worthy, but it comes with the bad part of the comparison too. He has a good arm with exceptional velocity and can make plays out of structure but the previously mentioned penchant to play wrecklessly is a part of his football DNA. It usually happens at critical moments because he’s pressing.
PICKED OVER 50 SPOTS APART (in different drafts of course) BUT HAVE SIMILAR STRUGGLES
Other observations about both QBs to note: Levis’ base is narrow and doesn’t open his hip when throwing much. That leads to more of a whip and an all arm throw. His accuracy and velocity declines especially when throwing left.
Willis loses control and lacks touch the further the throw. Mechanics are okay. It’s the timing and footwork attached to the progression and route concepts. Both QBs have foundational issues that make it tough to be consistent.
MALIK WILLIS FUTURE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOT?
If I’m Malik Willis’ camp, I’m asking for a trade if Levis is named the starter. Because it’s the only plausible route for his career to blossom. You don’t want the league to see you play bad in a system and with a supporting cast you can’t prosper with. The Titans aren’t becoming a Nick Sirianni or Shane Steichen offense anytime soon. (Until they adapt) It would give the trading team an incredible athlete to develop on a frugal deal. Teams like the Colts, Eagles and Ravens make sense. Teams like the Browns, Chargers and Seahawks would just be like the Titans but maybe they’re patient with him in a traditional offense and he develops in a year or two. Two teams that aren’t necessarily a fit but could be adaptable are the Falcons and Patriots. Patriots stand out because Bill Belichick has been experimenting for a couple of years with running QBs. Cam Newton, Malik Cunningham, and took a flier on Matt Corral. I think that’s the type he prefers now, understanding where the game is going.
I think Malik is a guy that wants to play but is a team guy and would be willing to wait. I’m not saying to 100% trade him but based off of this franchise’s actions they don’t see him as the long-term answer. RGIII should’ve felt the same way when Washington took Kirk Cousins as insurance in the same draft.
I want the player who won the QB2 battle to play until he’s unplayable then rightfully move on the the QB3. Based off of depth chart, that would be playing Malik Willis, see how it goes, if it’s more of the same from last year, hand it over to Will Levis.
Malik Willis needs to play like he has autonomy of the offense. If you know route concepts and can understand defensive leverage you should be able to know where players are even if you try to make a second reactionary play. If you don’t, you’ll be out of the league in a few years. Also if you don’t develop some sense of killer mentality or moxie, poise, or passion it makes it tough to compete at a high level consistently as well. And teammates respond to those types of leaders that do that and play well.
As for Levis, if he just minimizes mistakes, disregards how much of a Howitzer for an arm he has, and just runs the offense, everyone involved with that franchise would feel better moving forward.