Titans Rookie QB Malik Willis to Get First Career Start in Place of Ryan Tannehill

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Ryan Tannehill hasn’t missed a start since becoming the Titans starting quarterback years ago. However, that will change in Week 8. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis will make his first career start when the Titans (4-2) travel to Houston to face off against the Texans (1-4-1).

Tannehill has been ruled out with an illness and won’t travel with the team, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported Saturday afternoon.

Willis got all the starting reps at practice this week, Pelissero added.

The 2022 NFL Draft third-round pick out of Liberty played in garbage time in a 41-7 Week 2 loss to the Buffalo Bills and received three snaps last week during a win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Tannehill received a questionable designation on Friday. He injured his ankle against the Colts and added illness to injury as the week played out. He was limited in Thursday’s practice. However, he did not participate Wednesday or Friday. He also missed Saturday’s walkthrough, Pelissero reported.

After relieving Marcus Mariota in Week 6 of the 2019 campaign, Tannehill had recorded 49 consecutive starts up until this point.

Titans Drafted Malik Willis in the Third Round of Last Year’s Draft

Tannehill’s completed 95 of 146 passes for 1,097 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in six games this year. His production hasn’t been stellar this year. However, his game management and leadership have been key for the Titans as the AFC South’s first-place squad.

Willis has been suggested as a potential starting replacement for Tannehill down the road. However, he’ll be thrust into his first start ahead of his progression, according to most. He should toss a bit of a curveball into the Texans’ preparations since he’s a gifted runner as well. It’s also likely that Titans running back Derrick Henry, if it wasn’t already in the game plan, will see a heavy load.

After committing to Auburn University out of high school, he transferred to Liberty University shortly after.

Willis transferred to Liberty University in 2019 and sat out the season due to transfer rules. In 2020, he was named the team’s starting quarterback. Against Southern Mississippi, he threw for six touchdowns and rushed for another in a terrific performance.

Willis was named the winner of the 2020 Dudley Award, which is given to the best college football player in the state of Virginia. Then, he received the 2021 Bobby Bowden Award, awarded to best college football player who epitomizes “being a Christian student-athlete.” He was also named MVP of the 2020 Cure Bowl and the 2021 LendingTree Bowl.

The Titans selected Willis in the third round with the 86th overall pick. He was considered a surprise fall in the draft as he was projected by some to be selected as high as second overall.

The Tennessee Titans kick off against the Houston Texans on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET.