Going back to last spring around draft time, there was a lot of complete nonsense floating around about Will Levis being terrible, especially compared to the other three highly rated QBs, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Anthony Richardson. It was common to see people mocking his stats and tape from Kentucky but without proper context.
It’s the most common mistake I see when scouts analyze college QBs (and pro QBs for that matter). You cannot evaluate a QB on his own. Quarterback is the most central and important piece of an offense, yes, but he’s still not out there completely by himself. Sometimes if you see a QB throw a seemingly off-target pass into double coverage, it’s not because he’s a bad QB…it’s because he knows his offensive line can’t protect him very long and his WRs aren’t very fast or good and he’s down by 13 points with 5 minutes left, so he has to throw it earlier than he’d like, to a receiver that can’t get open, and he has to throw it because it’s his only chance to try and get his team back in the game.
Do you know doesn’t have to deal with scenarios like that? QBs from Alabama and Ohio St and Georgia and Clemson and Washington. Those guys are routinely surrounded by so much talent that they aren’t pressured on a third of their dropbacks the way a guy from Arizona is. They have all-star casts of WRs that are faster and better than the defensive backs they face. The entire team is good and thus they are rarely losing games and don’t have to force passes in a desperate attempt to catch up.
That’s not to say that QBs from those schools can’t be successful. Of course they can. But that context often gets lost in the conversation. It’s the subtle difference between a CJ Stroud and a Justin Fields. Stroud wasn’t fazed when playing an equally talented Georgia defense that was knocking him to the ground every other pass, something he had never really experienced before. Fields, on the other hand, wilted when confronted by a physical Alabama defense.
Now think of a guy like Josh Allen in college. It’s a myth that Josh Allen “developed” in the NFL. Did he get better? Sure. But he was already a really good QB and a great prospect. The idea that he was this raw piece of clay at Wyoming is lazy thinking. No. The truth is Josh Allen was surrounded by players that were lucky to be playing DI ball.
In 2015 Wyoming went 2-10 in the Mountain West, one of the worst divisions in college football. The team was 116th in scoring out of 128 DI schools. The defense was 102nd.
In 2016 Josh Allen took over as the starting QB. The offense jumped to 25th in the country and the team went 8-6 despite a defense that was still 101st in scoring.
In 2017 four of the starting offensive line for Wyoming graduated along with the starting RB and Allen’s top three receivers. The team fell to 105th in scoring offense. Allen was under constant pressure and had nobody open to throw to.
It was easy to look at Allen’s 56% completion percentage and meager 16 TDs his final year and think that he was an inaccurate QB, but the reality was that his numbers reflected the reality around him. He had to press to try to make a few plays, just enough to get his team a win. He was the offense.
Almost the exact same thing happened to Will Levis and Kentucky.
In 2020 Kentucky was the 108th ranked scoring offense in college football…an SEC school, not a Mountain West school. They went 5-6.
In 2021 Levis takes over the starting job and the team vaults to 36th in the country in scoring. They finish 10-3.
In 2022 they graduate 3 or 4 starting linemen and all-conference receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. The top receiver for Levis is Barion Brown. Levis takes 42 sacks in 12 games, 3.5 per game. The offense falls to 112th in the country.
Levis was always a very good QB prospect. The fact that he fell to the 2nd round of the draft was no reflection on him. The NFL simply bought into the same nonsense that talking heads on TV were spouting. Just to drive the point home, let’s take a look at the rookie season numbers of Levis vs the NFL and media’s consensus #1 overall pick Bryce Young.
Bryce Young: 231 of 381 passing, 60.6% completion percentage, 5.4 YPA, 9TDs (2.4% TD rate)/9INTs (2.4% INT rate), 25 rushes for 161 yards and 0 TDs. The offense is scoring 15.9 points per game (29th in the league). The offense has 24 passes of 20+ yards on the season (2.0/g). Bryce has taken 44 sacks (3.7/g). His top receiver is Adam Thielen.
Will Levis: 107 of 187 passing, 57.8% completion percentage, 6.8 YPA, 7 TDs (3.8% TD rate)/2INTs (1.1% INT rate), 17 rushes for 17 yards and 0 TDs. The offense is scoring 18.2 points per game with Levis as the starting QB (25th in the league). The offense has 20 passes of 20+ yards under Levis (3.3/g). He has taken 19 sacks (3.2/g). His top receiver is DeAndre Hopkins (Hopkins is good but he’s also 31 years old and Thielen was an all-pro receiver not so long ago too…Hopkins stats this year 50-774-5…Thielen 80-753-4).
So we see that both offenses are struggling for the same reasons I described above. Both teams have bad offense lines and bad receiving corps. But we also see that Levis is averaging nearly a yard and a half more per attempt than Bryce. His interception percentage is half of Bryce’s. He’s averaging 1.3 more explosive completions per game. And the offense is averaging 2.5 more points per game.
I agree that Bryce should not be judged based on this rookie season with no help (although I also have my scouting take on him based on his college career…he was my 4th ranked QB from the 2022 class). Neither should Levis. It’s too early to declare either of them a bust based on their surrounding casts. But it is very instructive to look at how they compare to each other under similar circumstances, and that is not a flattering look for Bryce. Levis trounces him in every important statistic.
The game tape backs it up. Levis routinely has no time to throw. His offensive line is putrid, especially rookie tackle Jaelyn Duncan (not to pick on Duncan, he was obviously a project coming from college and should also be given fair time to develop…right this second though he’s a turn stile and clearly not ready to be starting). His receivers can’t separate. Yes, even Hopkins. DHop has always been a tightly contested possession receiver, but at 31 years old he’s clearly lost another step as well. Burks can’t stay healthy. Okonkwo is explosive but still refining technical aspects of his game. The rest of the receivers are XFL level talents.
But even with all of that going on you still see a poised QB, totally in control, dropping dimes into coverage with a flick of the wrist. Levis can and will attack down the field, a trait not often seen in rookie QBs. In fact, he’s one of the most aggressive downfield passers in the league already as evidenced by his 3.3 20+ yard completions per game, a number which is even more impressive considering Tennessee is among the most run-heavy, conservative offenses in the league. What would happen if they let him off the leash?
This is the QB the media told you was a complete and total bust and didn’t deserve to go in the first round of the draft. But watch them make excuses for Bryce and none for Levis.
For comparison’s sake let’s look at Josh Allen’s rookie numbers. 169 of 320 passing, 52.8% completion percentage, 6.5 YPA, 10 TDs (3.1% TD rate)/12 INTs (3.8% INT rate), 89 rushes for 631 yards and 8 TDs. The offense averaged 18.7 points per game. Allen took 28 sacks (2.5/g). His top receiver was Zay Jones.
Buffalo continued to surround Allen with talent including an improved offensive line and in his third season he was united with Stefon Diggs. That vaulted him to the top of the annual QB rankings.
It is absolutely possible that Levis could follow a similar trajectory if he is given help the same way Allen was. He’s probably not quite as talented as Allen overall. Allen is one of the premier rushing threats at QB (although Levis is no slouch in this department either and could stand to run more) after all and is one of the great improvisers of our time.
But Levis probably isn’t as far off as you think. Let’s see what the Titans do over the next 2-3 years to help him. If Treylon Burks could stay healthy and keep developing his natural abilities that would go a long way toward helping Levis take another step. It’s not going to be a smooth ride, but I implore people to keep an open mind and look at the big picture in context. Levis is a very talented QB, one that overcame terrible circumstances in college to become a productive player. He can do it in the NFL too, and if he gets the right team around him, he might find himself ranked among the best 10 or so QBs in the league a few years from now. Discount him in real life and fantasy at your peril.