Preseason NFL Week 1 Takeaways: Malik Willis Shines in Titans Debut
We're in it now, y'all.
Thursday night, the 2022 NFL preseason started in earnest. The first full week of football since the Los Angeles Rams outlasted the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI kicked off with—two games.
Hey. It's football. Don't nitpick.
As one might expect from the first preseason game of the year, it wasn't especially crisp football. Of the four teams in action Thursday, only the New York Giants rolled out their first-team offense—and that wasn't especially impressive. It's hard to glean too much about the season to come from watching Bailey Zappe throw passes and Shemar Bridges catch touchdowns.
But there were some takeaways of note from Thursday's action, with the biggest being an impressive debut from a member of this year's underwhelming (in the eyes of most analysts) quarterback class.
Titans QB Malik Willis Impresses in NFL Debut
As was already mentioned, the draftnik community wasn't overly impressed by this year's crop of incoming quarterbacks. Apparently, NFL teams weren't either—only Pitt's Kenny Pickett was selected in the first round.
Of that class, Malik Willis was easily the most polarizing prospect. From the perspective of athleticism and raw arm talent, Willis may well have been the best prospect of the bunch. But after playing collegiately at tiny Liberty University, Willis' arm wasn't the only raw aspect of his game.
The Tennessee Titans finally selected Willis with the 22nd pick of Round 3. He's a project in the truest sense after playing almost exclusively in the shotgun in college, and Tennessee quarterbacks coach Pat O' Hara admitted to reporters that things as simple as dropping back from under center are skills Willis has to work on.
"It's a matter of tying the lower part of his body to what his mind is telling him to do and redirect his eyes with his feet," O'Hara said.
Thursday against the Ravens, the Titans decided that the best way for Willis to learn was by doing—with Ryan Tannehill watching from the sidelines, it was Willis who drew the start against Baltimore.
Things went about as well as either Willis or the Titans could dare hope.
Willis' ability to pick up yardage with his legs was on full display. In the opening stages of the second quarter, Willis scored his first NFL touchdown on a seven-yard run—making rookie first-rounder Kyle Hamilton look silly in the process.
But Willis was also solid as a passer, hitting on six of 11 passes for 107 yards with a passer rating of 88.1.
Yes, much of that damage was done against second and third-teamers. And there is most assuredly not a quarterback controversy in Nashville. But Willis showed glimpses Thursday of what could be the future under center in Tennessee.
Giants' Offensive Issues Go Beyond Daniel Jones
There's been plenty said and written about the New York offense since training camp opened—and a lot of it wasn't good. Quarterback Daniel Jones has been a frequent recipient of that criticism.
However, while speaking to reporters last week, Jones insisted that he and his teammates are growing more comfortable in Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka's offense.
“I’m getting more comfortable every day,” Jones said. “We’re still early in the process. We’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s certainly my mindset, I think that’s coach (Brian) Daboll’s mindset and the whole group’s mindset. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’re eager to do it. I’m comfortable and continuing to work to get more comfortable.”
Jones was neither great nor terrible Thursday against the Patriots, completing six of 10 passes for 69 yards with a passer rating of 80.8. But before fans get ready to roast Jones (again), they would be well-served to consider this…
The fourth-year pro isn't getting much in the way of help.
Yes, Jones missed a couple throws. But wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract last year, dropped a pass in the red zone. The Giants' offensive line couldn't open holes on the ground and allowed pressure just about every time Jones dropped back to pass.
One of the reasons Daboll was hired was to help get the most out of Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and the New York offense.
Thursday's opener was a reminder that he has his work cut out for him.
Mack Wilson Making Most of Second Chance with Patriots
There was a time when Mack Wilson was a well-regarded linebacker who drew comparisons to Pro Bowler (and fellow Alabama standout) C.J. Mosley. But Wilson dropped all the to the middle of the fifth round of the 2019 draft, and while he started 14 games for the Browns as a rookie, Wilson would only start 14 games over the next two seasons combined.
2022 brings a new team for Wilson, who was traded to New England for edge-rusher Chase Winovich. As Bob Socci wrote for 98.5 The Sports Hub, Wilson has been making the most of his second chance—and impressing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in the process.
“Mack’s done a good job for us,” head coach Bill Belichick says. “He was really an outstanding worker all spring and learned some different things that we do here. But he’s adapted well.”
That's about as effusive as Darth Hoodie gets.
Kidding aside, Wilson must have done something on the practice field to earn Belichick's confidence—when the New England defense took the field Thursday, Wilson not only started but also made the defensive play-calls and wore the "green-dot" helmet communicator.
Given how many starters for the Patriots sat Thursday, whether that's permanent or not is unknown. But Wilson was around the ball regularly while he was out there, notching four solo tackles and a QB hit.
Rookie Safety Kyle Hamilton Continues Up-and-Down First Camp with Ravens
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton was a favorite of the draft community leading up to the 2022 draft. Some analysts went so far as to call the versatile 6'4", 220-pounder the No. 1 overall prospect in the class. When the Ravens took Hamilton 14th overall, it was almost universally considered a steal.
However, Hamilton's first training camp has been an up-and-down affair. There have been splash plays. But there have also been coverage lapses. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the latter while speaking with reporters last week.
“Someone gave the opinion that he’s a limited guy who’s got to play in the box because they saw him try to cover a guy who ran like a 10.4-[second] 100 meters,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to match him up against a 10.4 100-meter guy, but he played man [coverage] today pretty good, as you saw.”
Still, given Hamilton's draft slot and perceived status as a starter, it was a little odd to see the youngster play into the second quarter Thursday night. And just like in camp, it was an up-and-down evening.
There was good—Hamilton recovered a fumble that led to a Ravens touchdown. But there was also not-so-good. Early in the second quarter, Hamilton whiffed badly on a blitz, leading to the Malik Willis touchdown run referenced earlier.
It's hardly time to panic. Hamilton is an immensely talented defensive back with an excellent chance of becoming an impact player.
But as he's learning the hard way, even the best college players can struggle acclimating at the next level.