Boom or Bust? Analyzing Will Levis

Will Levis was a consensus three-star recruit and the number two player in the state of Connecticut, choosing to pursue a FBS career at Penn State despite multiple Ivy League offers from the likes of Princeton and Harvard.

After redshirting his freshman year, he barely saw the field for the Nittany Lions, only being used as a power-running goal line weapon. His sophomore year was just as limited, finishing with 414 yards on 54 attempts, with one touchdown and a completion rate of 59.3%, and a QBR of 89.6. Levis also ran 79 times for a total of 286 yards.

After starting two games in three years for Penn State, Levis transferred to Kentucky after the 2020 season, landing the starting role and not looking back.

Levis played a total of 13 games as a junior, finishing with a 10-3 record, as he tallied 2,826 yards for 24 touchdowns, and rushing 107 times for 376 yards and 9 touchdowns.

After his junior year as a Wildcat, helping the program reach their fourth ever ten-win season, and a fourth consecutive bowl game victory (20-17 against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl), Levis’ draft stock soared. And yet, he decided to return to Lexington for his senior year.

Cue disaster.

You can’t blame Levis for deciding to return for another year. The 2022 NFL Draft had the likes of Malik Willis, Brock Purdy, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell, etc. It made sense for Levis to hone his skills for another year and enter the draft in 2023 with a weaker quarterback class.

Levis’ year did not go well, to say the least.

The Wildcats lost Liam Coen in the offseason prior, and this significantly hindered Levis’ development. The offensive line coach left for Alabama, and UK lost multiple starters to the draft, including Darian Kennard and Luke Fortner. Combined with a completely new offensive scheme from former 49ers OC Rich Scangarello, losing top WR in Wan’Dale Robinson, and a supporting cast that simply doesn’t have as much talent, Levis struggled to adjust.

Levis finished his collegiate career in 2022 with a 65.4% completion percentage, totaling 2,406 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and a QBR of 99.1. However, 2022 marked the first season that Levis rushed for less than 200 yards, finishing with 119 yards on 45 attempts.

Despite this, Levis is still high on many draft boards. But why?

Levis is the poster child of “draft for ceiling.” Listed at 6 feet, 3 inches and 232 pounds, he is built like an NFL-ready prospect. If the draft was purely based on potential alone, Levis would probably go first overall.

Levis’ biggest strength is his arm strength. For someone of his size and arm strength, he boasts an unusually quick release. Overall, his throwing mechanics are clean and sharp, and he throws with a compact motion, making it easier to get the ball out faster.

If left unaccounted for, Levis also has the ability to scramble for distance once he breaks contain. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but his legs can move the chains if necessary, and he isn’t afraid of contact.

During his two seasons at Kentucky, Levis worked under a variation of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan style offenses, familiarizing himself with terminology, making protection checks, and pre-snap adjustments.

Perhaps Levis’ biggest strength regarding his passing talent is operating in play action. Levis had 75.4% on target throw percentage in PA schemes last season, with a 13/5 TD/INT ratio. The biggest benefit for Levis in PA offenses is the fact that it creates defined windows where defenders move based on the run action. However, when Levis has to throw without defined windows in RPA, his processing slows down a lot. In both years at Kentucky, Levis’ sack percentage increased in non-RPA called plays.

Levis also has a tendency to stare down his targets, leading to quite a few bad decisions and plays being easily read by defenders. Levis can easily work NFL passing games when reads are clearly defined for him, but it starts to get cloudier when running non-RPA called plays, and Levis crumbles.

Under pressure, Levis is hit or miss. During Kentucky’s week 7 game against Mississippi State, Levis went 17-for-23 for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception. However, he ended the game with an adjusted completion percentage of 75%, and averaged 2.11 seconds to throw the ball due to State’s pressure.

However, week 9 versus Tennessee was a completely different quarterback on the field. Kentucky was thrashed 44-6 to the then #3-ranked Tennessee, but Levis’ performance was abysmal. He went16-for-27 for 98 yards, 3 interceptions, 4 sacks, and 7 total rushing attempts for -36 yards.  Levis probably wants to forget this game ever happened just as much as scouts do.

Levis is raw. He has probably the highest ceiling of any of the 2023 QB class, however he could bust just as easily as he could succeed. His athletic gifts are no question, but I believe the biggest question is his mental fortitude. Levis doesn’t pick up blitzes and changes in coverage quickly or easily and doesn’t seem to be overly instinctive as a quarterback. He needs to improve his overall touch of the football and needs to work on his pocket patience. Many times throughout his career he has given up on the play and ran, when an extra thought or two could’ve led to a better outcome.

Overall, Will Levis is a big, physically dominant and talented quarterback who has proven success in a highly competitive conference, and has helped Kentucky maintain a winning consistency under Mark Stoops. However, he struggles with reads, and needs the picture clearly defined for him or else he crumbles. Levis needs time to develop and learn the processing speed of the NFL, and with his age (23), he does not have a ton of time to develop before reaching his “prime” years. He is a pro-style QB, eerily similar to Josh Allen-esque play, it’s just a matter of putting everything together.

My biggest concern for Will Levis has almost nothing to do with his talent. The concern for his career path comes from a QB-desperate team throwing a very raw, needing-development and time Levis into a starting role Week 1 and everything falling apart (see Deshone Kizer, Brandon Weeden, etc.) In order for Levis to truly succeed and play to the best of his potential, he needs valuable time to sit and learn behind a veteran QB.

Despite this, teams need quarterbacks and will take Levis on pure potential alone. Levis’ most likely fits are the Panthers, Lions, Texans, and Jets.

Carolina would be a bit of a mix-up. Levis would be under a first-year HC and a completely new staff– however, he would have time to learn from Sam Darnold and PJ Walker, who both have valuable NFL experience. Darnold and Walker are no stranger to being thrust into a starting role young, and could prove valuable in guiding Levis.

Detroit would be the best fit for Levis overall. The Lions have just come off a fantastic year, led by Jared Goff, and in a tossup NFC North, Levis may have just the right system around him to succeed.

Houston, on the other hand, would be disastrous. Although they hold the 2nd overall pick in the 2023 draft, and could potentially take Levis to remedy Davis Mills, Houston would most likely throw Levis into a dumpster fire. We’ve seen how Levis handles pressure, and under the Texans’ staffing and system, I think Levis has a high chance of being a one-and-done in Houston.

The Jets are in somewhat of a similar situation. Most likely parting ways with Zach Wilson in the offseason, the QB room is left with Mike White and Joe Flacco. Robert Saleh could be very keen on another QB project to really get the Jets over the hump and be true competitors, and Levis could benefit greatly learning from Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco. I can see Levis’ career going both ways in New York: boom or bust.

I project Levis to be anywhere from the 1st to 3rd quarterback taken. There are a lot of variables in his play styles, but a franchise looking for a sturdy, strong-armed playcaller could lean towards Levis instead of a smaller-framed QB in Bryce Young.

NFL Comparisons: Boom (Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford) Bust (Mitch Trubisky, Josh Rosen)