2023 East-West Shrine Bowl: Did Will Levis Miss an Opportunity, and Is Aidan O’Connell the Top QB To Watch?

The pre-draft process really heats up as the Shrine Bowl kicks off with Aidan O'Connell as the top quarterback to watch. Did Will Levis miss an opportunity?

The scouting process for the 2023 NFL Draft kicks into full gear over the next seven days as four days of Shrine Bowl practice in Las Vegas are immediately followed by three more days of practice at the Senior Bowl. As players start to descend upon Vegas, all eyes are on the quarterbacks this draft cycle, most notably Aidan O’Connell at the Shrine Bowl and Will Levis, who is expected to be absent from each all-star game.

Why Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell Is the Top QB at the 2023 Shrine Bowl

Most focus on the here and now regarding the NFL draft, especially the order players fall off the board. And usually, the biggest conversation centers on the quarterback position.

Most feel Alabama QB Bryce Young will be the first QB selected in April, though a few believe Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud will ultimately prevail to the top spot. While that makes for a good debate, NFL decision-makers always want to come away with the best quarterback from the class, which is not necessarily the first QB selected.

So which prospect will be the best quarterback from the 2023 NFL Draft three years from now? Many believe it will be Young, based on his incredible mental acumen at the position. Others point to Stroud or Kentucky QB Will Levis based on physical gifts. Some believe it will be Florida’s Anthony Richardson.

Yet, a growing number of people I’ve spoken with from the scouting community believe Shrine Bowl quarterback Aidan O’Connell of Purdue will prevail as the top signal-caller from this year’s class.

MORE: Top 10 Quarterbacks of the 2023 NFL Draft

The reasoning is simple: O’Connell combines the leadership skills and field vision of Young with many of the same physical gifts Stroud and Levis bring to the game. They point to his two-year stewardship as the Boilermakers QB, in which O’Connell accrued 17 victories and a trip to the Big Ten title game. Scouts love the poise, maturity, and leadership O’Connell brings to the field.

They feel he’ll hold up much better than Young, as O’Connell is four inches taller and 20 pounds stouter than the projected top-five pick. They also believe he’s much more NFL-ready than Stroud, Levis, or Richardson and comes with a fraction of the bust factor those quarterbacks possess.

The fact O’Connell didn’t miss a game after the untimely death of his oldest brother Sean is something scouts tell me teammates at any level would rally around.

Time will ultimately tell who will be the best quarterback from the 2023 NFL Draft, but little by little, opinions from scouts say it won’t be a signal-caller selected in the top 10, and it could be O’Connell.

Did Will Levis Miss an Opportunity To Attend the Shrine or Senior Bowl?

As of this posting, it seems clear Levis will not be participating in either the Shrine Bowl or Senior Bowl, and scouts believe that is a huge mistake.

An injured toe will prevent Levis from participating in the January scouting events. And while his toe is injured, it was misdiagnosed as turf toe when, in fact, his toe was actually broken. Scouts are not happy Levis will not at least show up and try to compete over the
next week.

While many on the outside grade Levis as a potential top-10 pick, the feeling in the scouting community could not be any more different. Talk to scouts, and they’ll tell you Levis is a big-armed athlete with great size who’s still far from being a complete quarterback. As they say, he’s more of a thrower than a passer.

Given the long history of quarterback success at the Senior Bowl with prospects such as Mac Jones, Daniel Jones, Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, and, I dare say, Tim Tebow, cashing in on the success of great practices, the decision is a bit head-scratching.

One league insider called the decision by Levis not to participate at the Shrine Game “occupational suicide,” considering the Atlanta Falcons, who own the eighth pick of Round 1, and head coach Arthur Smith oversees the East squad.

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