Well, nobody really expected Will Levis to drop out of the first round, did they?
Thankfully, the Kentucky Wildcats QB is now an NFL player.
While it isn’t a great look for the Cats for Levis to drop so far, and you have to feel for the guy after they showed him over and over on night one, fit is much more important than draft position. While a first round pick comes with an extra year of control, more money, and more publicity, I’d be concerned if Levis was manning the Carolina Panthers or Houston Texans next year. This puts him in a much better position to succeed long term.
Levis, who won 17 starts in two years at Kentucky, was a three-star recruit as a high school prospect, ranked as the No. 2 player in Connecticut and the No. 24 pro-style quarterback in the country. Levis held offers from the likes of the Florida State Seminoles, Iowa Hawkeyes, North Carolina Tar Heels, Ole Miss Rebels, and the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Levis ultimately committed to Penn State after a historic high school career at Xavier High School in Madison, Connecticut. The three-year letter winner earned second-team Walter Camp All-Connecticut honors and was selected to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Top 25 list after breaking Xavier’s records for passing yards (2,793), passing touchdowns (27), and completions in a season.
He was also named the Hartford Courant Offensive Player of the Year, All-Courant first-team selection, and All-Southern Connecticut Conference Tier 1 accolades. He won the SPARQ MVP for The Opening Elite 11 event in New Jersey in 2017 and carried a 4.0 grade-point average during his prep career, winning the Brother Celestine Academic Award.
His start in State College went about the same as most freshman quarterbacks as he redshirted his freshman season. In his redshirt freshman season, Levis appeared in seven games with one start and completed 28-of-47 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, to go along with 213 rushing yards on 51 carries with three scores. He continued to show his strong academic prowess.
As a sophomore, Levis played in eight games with one start and completed 33-of-55 passes for 421 yards and one score, as well as accumulating 260 yards on 82 rushes with three touchdowns.
After it became clear that Sean Clifford would once again be named Penn State’s starting quarterback going into Levis’ junior season, he decided to enter the transfer portal, and the rest is history.
After just a week in the portal, Liam Coen had convinced Levis to join him in Lexington.
Most people didn't know Levis. He had a highlight reel primarily consisting of QB-designed runs, but his viral offseason throwing highlights began to catch people’s attention.
Will Levis has gone viral for having a cannon of an arm—an arm that he was only asked to use 4 times last season— Barstool Penn State (@PSUBarstool) January 22, 2021
The expectation was that Levis would compete with Beau Allen and Joey Gatewood for the starting job in the 2021-22 season, but due to his somewhat late arrival, he certainly wasn't expected to win it. Levis chose to finish up the 2021 spring semester at Penn State, so he could graduate in three years and missed Kentucky’s spring practices, so he didn't get on campus until late summer 2021.
However, it was clear pretty quickly that he was Coen’s guy. Despite talk of a competition, Levis was too impressive to sit on the bench, and he was named a team captain. Expectations soared as it appeared Kentucky might just have its best quarterback in the Mark Stoops era.
In his junior season, Levis started in all 13 games and helped lead UK to 10 wins for just the fourth time in school history. He totaled 3,202 yards total offense, the seventh player in school history to reach 3,000 yards total offense in a season, as he completed 233-of-353 passes for 2,827 yards and 24 scores with 13 interceptions. His 24 touchdown passes were the most since Andre’ Woodson had 40 in 2007. He also added 107 rushes for 376 yards and a team-high tying nine rushing touchdowns.
The 6-2, 232-pound quarterback was named to the Davey O’Brien QB Class of 2021, thanks to being a two-time FBS National Offensive Player of the Week (LSU, Louisville) and two-time Manning Award Quarterback of the Week (ULM, Louisville). Levis also tied the school record with four rushing touchdowns against the Louisville Cardinals.
It was clear Kentucky had an elite talent at quarterback, but a serious question remained following the 2021-22 season: following Liam Coen’s departure, would Levis try his luck at the NFL Draft (where he was looking like a third-round pick or so), or return to Kentucky for one more season?
After the Cats brought in Rich Scangarello, at Coen’s recommendation, Levis opted to return for one final ride. He was once again named a team captain, and the hype began as he was elected preseason Third-team All-SEC at SEC Media Days, by the coaches, and by the media.
Levis started in 11 games, missing the South Carolina game due to injury and sitting out the Cats’ bowl game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. He completed 185-of-283 passes for 2,406 yards and 19 scores with 10 interceptions. He ranked fourth in the SEC and 27th nationally in pass efficiency (151.9) and fourth in the SEC and 23rd nationally in yards per pass attempt (8.50). He became just the 15th UK quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in his career and the third QB in school history with at least four games of 365+ passing yards, despite only playing two seasons.
The numbers clearly dropped off once Coen left, and the season didn't exactly go as expected, but there was a multitude of reasons for that. Obviously, Scangarello just wasn’t made for the college game, as he was quickly let go following the season.
On top of that, the offensive line (yes, the daunted Big Blue Wall) was one of the worst in the country. Levis dealt with injuries all season long, and while he played through them, all of the above played a part in his decline. In fact, his toe injury reportedly played a big part ultimately in his fall in the NFL Draft.
So, despite the huge frame and incredible arm talent, Levis has been one of the most controversial quarterbacks in recent memory. The interceptions show a tendency for poor decision-making, but his QBR shows he may be a bit better than the numbers indicate.
His strong academics show a player willing to learn, and, hopefully, quickly at the next level. His NFL Combine numbers speak for themselves. But...the interceptions! Look, I get the hesitancy with Levis. He wasn't close to perfect and didn't exactly put up first round quarterback numbers (neither did Anthony Richardson), but that doesn't mean he isn't talented enough to be there.
In his first season, Levis had Wan’Dale Robinson to throw to, but the rest of the receiving corps was pretty bad. Josh Ali was fine, but that’s it. In his second season, the wide receiver room got a lot better, but the two best receivers were just freshmen adjusting to college and playing in the SEC. Couple that with the offensive line being as bad as it's ever been and the play calling being flat-out horrible, and there are reasons for optimism with Levis.
Then again, the guy eats bananas without peeling them and pours mayonnaise in his coffee, so who really knows?
The concern is obviously that Levis is another Jamarcus Russell—a talented QB with a huge arm that never completely puts it all together and lives up to the hype —or Josh Rosen—a confident oddball who flamed out from the start. But the ceiling is sky-high. If he stays motivated and uses the drop to fuel him, he could turn out just fine, like Aaron Rodgers did.
And Levis’ numbers and traits look eerily similar to one of the best quarterbacks currently in the NFL. Take a look for yourself.
Your guess is as good as mine whether Will Levis is a boom or a bust, but he’s got the pedigree, the grit, and the confidence to shine. Now, it’s just time to prove everyone wrong.
Looking ahead, Levis will likely spend his rookie season behind veteran Ryan Tannehill, then compete with 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis for the starting job in 2024.