Tennessee Titans plan to keep Ryan Tannehill as starter, develop Malik Willis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There comes a time in every organization when it's time to part ways with a player who was once the franchise quarterback. Like any other position, the goal for NFL teams is always to find a way to get younger and cheaper.

The Tennessee Titans have been adamant that Ryan Tannehill is their starter even though the 2021 season suddenly ended after a 19-16 divisional-round loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in which Tannehill was intercepted three times. That said, Tannehill turns 34 this summer.

At some point, the Titans have to start preparing for their future. They might have found just that in the third round of the draft Friday.

Tennessee selected Liberty quarterback Malik Willis with the No. 86 overall pick. Willis was considered to be a first-round talent by multiple draft analysts, including ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

"He was the best player on the board, and we're excited to have him on the team," Titans general manager Jon Robinson said of Willis. "Good arm, athletic, moves around well and has a really good skill set. He throws a good ball and is tough to tackle. He's got a lot of work to do like all these rookies do."

Willis has high upside but is still raw as a quarterback. There are times when Willis' mechanics cause him to be slightly off target with throws.

However, Willis will also make jaw-dropping throws that showcase how much potential he truly has. Willis' rocket arm allows him to deliver the ball to any part of the field with ease and accuracy.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Willis threw 13 touchdowns with 15 or more air yards downfield last season. Willis also had 31 completions in which he threw the ball 20 or more yards down the field. That tied him for the seventh-most in the FBS.

The ability to impact the game as a rusher is also something to factor in. He picked up 878 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground last year. The Titans' coaching staff should be intrigued at the option to utilize Willis in select packages that will get him valuable reps so he can become more acclimated to playing at the next level.

Being selected in the third round eases the pressure to rush the playmaking quarterback into duty. Having Tannehill in place to carry the load is another plus in the developmental process for Willis. The Titans can be competitive with Tannehill while they develop Willis.

"Ryan Tannehill is a great player, and he's a great leader for this organization," Willis said. "I just want to come in and just do all I can in order to get better at my craft. Whenever that time comes for me to get on the field, then that time will come. But until then, I'm just going to try to learn and be the best teammate that I can be."

The Titans will welcome any competition that Willis can provide. But they said they understand it will be an ongoing process to get him ready to be an impactful player. There isn't necessarily a fast-track plan to get Willis into the starting role.

Willis has the luxury of being able to gradually absorb the playbook and progress. That luxury might not have been afforded to him if he was selected in the first round.

"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 regarding Willis becoming a starter.

"We want them all to compete for starting roles," coach Mike Vrabel said. "Everybody wants the corner office and to live on the top floor. That's what you try to do in professional sports."