2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Will Levis (Fantasy Football)
Are you a Bryce Young enthusiast? #TeamStroud? Did Anthony Richardson blow your mind at the combine?
Along with those three, Will Levis is consistently mocked in the top-10 of the upcoming NFL Draft to the point where it’s become groupthink (or wisdom of the crowd) depending on who you listen to. The big-armed Kentucky QB has the raw tools and athleticism that makes sense when you link him to QB needy teams like the Raiders, Colts, or Panthers. However, we’re not here to copy and paste what others are saying.
Every year I try (emphasis on try) to go into prospect evaluation not leaning too far into comps or overweight on what the game tape dictates. As I mentioned in C.J. Stroud’s Rookie Profile, we’re trying to marry both approaches while acknowledging the fact that the majority of players the prospect faced will never be playing on an NFL field. My guilty pleasure is asking the question: what’s NOT on tape? It is easy to splice together Levis’ highlight reel runs and massive cannon. Heck, you could search that on Twitter in five seconds and end up with a take. But we cannot only glean and give a stamp of approval of a prospect (especially the most important position in pro sports) based on what our eyeballs are showing us. Sometimes it’s best to ask yourself the question: What am I not seeing? This involves asking big questions that won’t necessarily be answered right away and reflecting.
After reviewing Levis’ production in college and comparing him using his athletic measurables, let’s find out what we see on film and what our eyes aren’t seeing take place on the football field before giving a final outlook on his fantasy future.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
College Production Profile
Levis is an interesting evaluation when looking at his college production. After redshirting at Penn State and playing behind four-year starter Sean Clifford, he transferred to Kentucky. That tidbit of information is a bit troubling considering Clifford is not on any draft boards. But we also have seen a track record of NFL QBs who transferred (Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Jalen Hurts) without a hitch in their pro outlooks. However, Levis isn’t a projected top-10 pick because of his time at Penn State but what he accomplished at Kentucky, most notably in 2021.
Kentucky became an offensive powerhouse in 2021 thanks to a couple of high-profile transfers: Levis and slot-man extraordinaire Wan’Dale Robinson who set the Kentucky school record for receptions in a season. But as I’ll detail in the film evaluation, the special sauce was OC Liam Coen who utilized Levis’ dual-threat ability although his 107(!) rush attempts need context. The NCAA also counts sacks taken in that category. Just for context, his actual rush attempts (designed runs + scrambles) put him at 5.6 per carry. His late breakout age (22.2) is a bit concerning when you consider it is the latest of any 1st round QBs since 2012… aka old man Brandon Weeden. It’s a 12th percentile mark for QBs and while breakout age isn’t the sole metric to use, it is a bit of a red flag in his evaluation.
Let’s discuss Levis’s production in the context of his physical attributes.
Per our Production Profiles in the UDK+, Levis checks the boxes on what you would want from an ideal QB1 at the NFL level. He weighed in slightly lighter than advertised but still a well-built physical specimen. Since 2000, here are the other 1st round QBs that were between 75-76 inches and weighed between 230-245 pounds:
|Year||Player||School||Age||Height||Weight||40-time||Draft Capital||NFL Team|
|2007||Brady Quinn||Notre Dame||22||6-4||232||4.73||1.11||CLE|
|2015||Jameis Winston||Florida State||21||6-4||231||4.97||1.01||TB|
|2019||Dwayne Haskins||Ohio State||21||6-3||231||5.04||1.15||WAS|
It’s a pretty solid list including three #1 overall picks. Luck is the gold standard for QB prospects but athletically, Levis might be just a notch behind. He did not participate in running the 40-yard dash but I’ve seen projections in the high 4.6s to low 4.7s.
I try not to give too much attention to how QBs perform on deep throws at the combine. Zach Wilson “wowed” everyone with a throw a couple of years ago that must’ve stuck in the minds of the New York Jets front office. There is zero pass rush. Zero actual game play. Just hang one up there and see if it times right with the receiver. The best part about Levis is it looks relatively easy throwing the ball 60+ yards down field.
Showing off the cannon.@will_levis | @UKFootball
📺: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork
📱: Stream on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/tPHB35dxXq
— NFL (@NFL) March 4, 2023
What’s On Tape
My method for watching film is simple: get out a pen and pad of paper. Watch each pass attempt taking note of the down and distance and simply write down what I see. For a QB, I focus on accuracy, aDOT, footwork, locating 2nd reads, and how they stand in the pocket under pressure. For Levis, I took seven of his highest-profile games.
Games Viewed: Georgia (2022), Tennessee (2022), Ole Miss (2022), Florida (2022), Iowa (2022), Louisville (2021), LSU (2021)
1. He has the arm to be a menace vertically.
The first thing that wows scouts and screams from his film is he can make any throw on the field. His throwing motion is precise and often looks effortless, as I shared earlier from his combine showing. He hung in against Georgia making a couple of beautiful deep throws to WR Barion Brown. While the stat sheet won’t share the story, the eventual National Champions had to respect Levis’ arm and play-making ability all game long. He outplayed Stetson Bennett in that game pulling his team within ten points with just under ten minutes remaining in the game.
Here’s a play down the middle of the field where he places it perfectly for Wan’Dale Robinson against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. As an aside, watching that game I came away with a clear takeaway: Wan’Dale Robinson was the best player on the field. He finished with ten receptions for 170 yards in that game.
To put a cherry on top of this conversation, Levis might have the best combination of strength and touch in this class. Bryce Young is more accurate, C.J. Stroud is more consistent, and Anthony Richardson might be able to throw the ball to the parking lot. But don’t just categorize Levis as a sheer brute. The location on the deep ball is just as valuable a tool and perhaps even tougher when you consider the timing with NFL wide receivers. He’s already pro-ready in this facet of his game which makes NFL evaluators pee their pants in excitement.
2. There was a major change in offensive philosophy from 2021 to 2022.
It’s hard to not scrutinize Levis’ production dropoff in 2022. Beyond losing the aforementioned Robinson, one of the storylines that might be going underserved is that the Wildcats quietly lost offensive coordinator Liam Coen to the NFL after the 2021 season. Coen joined the Rams staff and Rich Scangarello decidedly nosedived the offensive play in a number of key statistical categories ranking dead last among SEC teams in 2022.
Points Per Game
|32.3 (5th)||20.4 (14th)|
|Total Offense||425.2 (8th)||324.7 (14th)|
Scangarello was fired and Coen is coming full circle returning back to Kentucky this fall. Regardless, the play-calling philosophy and the way Levis’ skillset was utilized need to be taken into account. His play-action rate dropped and his “big-time throws” per PFF were cut in half from year-to-year. There were fewer deep bombs and while the drop-off in the intermediate range (10-19 yards) seems marginal (-1.4%) from 2021 to 2022, a sub-20 percent rate puts him drastically behind the other 1st round prospects.
Intermediate throws are one of the main criteria I apply when looking at prospects. Do they slay in this area? When you adjust for drops, Levis’ completion rate here (64.9) is more than serviceable when compared to other recent 1st rounders. On film, I found that his placement and instincts were above-average in finding windows down the field.
But over and over again, I found that the game plan involved easy completions and screen plays. In the Ole Miss game, he did not complete a pass of more than five air yards (per my film observation) until the third quarter. His footwork at times feels a bit unstable but when it is time to uncork one deep, he uses a solid base and is able to put strength in his throws. In 2022, 16.7 percent of his dropbacks were labeled as a “screen”. The average for 1st round QBs over the last five years is 13.7 percent with Trevor Lawrence heavily skewing the data thanks to the Clemson system.
I wrote in Lawrence’s Rookie Profile two years ago that it’s not uncommon for QBs (with big frames) to manufacture plays in the short area passing game. “This goes back to the question…: what was he asked to do? Many college QBs are given a game plan where they only have to analyze half of the field. It’s simplified because you want to put your quarterback in a position to succeed and get the ball in their playmakers’ hands”.
3. He’s hyper-aggressive as a runner.
There are two sides to this coin. Aggressiveness is something you want from an NFL player, especially someone leading your team. Against Louisville, he was automatic on draws up the middle as the aforementioned Liam Coen dialed up those plays time and time again. His four rushing TDs were special but it was the way he ran that made you see why he gets some “diet Josh Allen” comparisons athletically. This play in particular gives you Allen goosebumps.
However, there is the other side where this guy is opening himself up to unnecessary injuries. Against Tennessee, he raced back after a tipped-ball INT and lunged his entire body head-first forward to make a sideline tackle in the 3rd quarter. It’s gutsy but also one of the more violent approaches at a tackle I’ve seen a QB take. Against LSU, he took a red zone carry on 3rd and goal and was dragged down near the five while trying to pick up extra yards. It finished with him being gang-tackled by four Tiger defenders. Those types of hits over time are scary especially when it is your franchise QB. But there is also a 3rd quarter run that was something special where he was the one dragging defenders en route to a 34-yard gain on a zone-read keeper.
That type of playing style is something you root for and fanbases will love his aggressiveness when it equates to grinding out 1st downs. He can be a goal-line weapon with his massive frame. But there is an opportunity cost at hand when you run as recklessly as he does fighting for extra yards.
What’s Not on Tape
Here are a couple of takeaways from what didn’t show up:
1. Games Without Mistakes
He sometimes lacks awareness of pass rushers to the point where I wanted to scream “Get rid of the ball!”. Against Ole Miss, he was pulverized left and right. Against Florida, my notes say “blown up multiple times, a gross sack/fumble, and a couple of other times trying to dance around mounted to nothing and near turnovers”. It shocked me finding out at the end of the game that Kentucky won as he completed just 54 percent of his passes along with at least eight plays (per my notes) that left me shaking my head in disappointment. He trusted himself to escape pressure and make plays way more than the situation dictated. This clip against Georgia was an absolute killer inside the red zone. He clearly sees the blitzing defender, tries to step up into the pocket, and instead of rolling to his right to throw the ball away, he takes a sack. On the next play, Levis ends up throwing the ball away on 3rd down and the Wildcats settle for an FG which they inevitably missed. Three plays in a row that left you scratching your head.
I wanted to find a signature game where the film did more than the box score suggested. In other words, did he play lights-out and mistake-free football on top of the monster production? Against Louisville in 2022, the four TDs on the ground look impressive but he attempted a mere 18 pass attempts for 149 yards so it’s hard to crown that as a “complete game”. He wasn’t perfect against LSU in some of his decision-making but it was probably his best all-around game. They steamrolled LSU in every facet of the game and Levis was sharp albeit he didn’t complete a pass with more than 15 air yards in the game.
But that leads to a bigger question… do we want him to be safe? Daniel Jones is another comparable based on skillset, size, and the ability to use him on zone-reads. But Jones’ breakout 2022 campaign in the NFL has tons of qualifiers in my opinion. He led the league in INT rate and adjusted completion rate but he wasn’t asked to make a ton of difficult, down-field throws as only 5% were 20+ yards (31st) and he registered the 2nd fewest “Big-Time Throws” per PFF among starters. Levis is not Jones. His playing style lends itself towards mistakes which can be fine for fantasy. Jason brings this “Jameis Winston effect” up on the show all the time that turnovers or pick-sixes actually necessitate the offense to keep up the pace. Aggressiveness is what we want for fantasy. This is what Josh Allen is… and his career-high 20 turnovers didn’t even matter last year. He actually averaged more fantasy points per game and rushing yards per game when he threw an INT. Levis has some overlap but I’m not here to crown him as Josh Allen-lite or the calorie-free version of him.
2. Great Offensive Line Play
To be honest, it was pretty rough. In certain games, the Kentucky offensive line was manhandled and Levis bore the brunt of it. Against Ole Miss, there were way too many plays where he tried to extend and paid for it. In 2022, Levis was pressured on 37.8 percent of his drop backs (highest among this draft class) but he refused to throw the ball away. As I previously mentioned, it’s a double-edged sword with his escapability and competitiveness. His yards per attempt (9.2) under pressure was 4th highest in the NCAA showcasing his willingness to trust his arm and chuck it deep when he was under duress. This issue might not be solved depending on the landing spot in the NFL. While every prospect has this scenario in their range of outcomes, a poor offensive line for Levis tends to highlight his erratic play and sometimes questionable decision-making.
In our recent 1QB Mock Draft, Levis landed near the end of the 2nd round firmly behind the other three first round prospects and rightfully so. No one is going to question his physical tools but the biggest question is what type of offensive system will he be allowed to thrive in? It clearly changed his trajectory in 2022 when Liam Coen was no longer at the helm. Levis can be a high-upside dual threat QB in the NFL if the offensive coordinator is allowed to take advantage of zone-reads and his touch down the field especially hitting TEs and slot receivers on RPOs. That was the most effective part of their gameplay at Kentucky: defenses had to respect him on keepers up the middle which opened up space in the middle of the field for Levis to rifle throws in. That can work and certainly he has the arm to challenge people vertically.
My biggest concern is his overaggressiveness in the wrong NFL system. He needs a long leash to be able to deal with the bumps and bruises early on and hopefully win over fans and teammates that he can elevate the play of everyone else on the team. For redraft, he’s off the radar apart from being a QB3 in BestBall for a couple of high upside games.
For QBs, I like to give a high-end, medium range, and low-end outcome for dynasty purposes. This is not an exact science but rather a chance to look at the paths of recent QBs in the NFL, combine their draft capital, playing style, and give
- 75% of Josh Allen. I hate making blind comps without giving context and percentages of what could be. You saw the Allen-esque leap earlier so maybe that’s a bit too lazy of a comparison. But Allen struggled early in the NFL before the Bills adopted a system to throw on early downs and become pass rate kings. The goal-line vulture comparisons are also spot on.
- Carson Wentz. You might be throwing up right now. Wentz feels like he’s on everyone’s naughty list after going as high as QB3 in dynasty startups before the 2020 season. He never regained that MVP-level season he had in 2017 and ruined his chances in Indianapolis and Washington. But Wentz had a brief run in the sun and remained relevant to fantasy discussions as a top-15 QB. Levis is a more dynamic runner and competitor.
- Jay Cutler with Wheels. I know Smoking’ JCutty is kinda a running joke this days based on his DGAF vibes. Levis has the arm and mobile ability to take Cutler’s game to another level for fantasy. Just to give you context, as a rookie Cutler threw 27 passing TDs… along with 26 INTs. He was erratic but had his moments as a streaming QB including three different franchises (CHI, DEN, MIA) deciding they want to make him a starter in this league based on physical tools alone.
- Josh Freeman. Remember him? Freeman had a good, not great last season at Kansas State but it was his tools that got everyone excited. He had a rocket arm with size (6’6) and for fantasy actually was better than you remember finishing as a top-15 QB three years in a row with Tampa Bay. This was highlighted by a 2010 sophomore season where he threw for 25 TDs and only six INTs while adding almost 25 rushing yards per game on the ground. Nevertheless, he flamed out quickly lasting six seasons, and never really learned how to not turn the ball over.