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    Should Will Levis Be the No. 1 Overall Pick in 2023?

    Will Levis has been in the spotlight since the 2023 NFL Draft class first took center stage. But should Levis be the No. 1 overall pick?

    The 2023 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks is not dissimilar to the 2018 class. That class featured five QBs that could have been considered by some as being worthy of the top pick in the NFL draft, but none of them were “can’t miss” prospects among the group. The 2023 class has four to the 2018 class’ five, but the same question remains. Is Will Levis, Anthony Richardson, C.J. Stroud, or Bryce Young the top dog?

    Trevor Lawrence isn’t walking through the door, but what makes this class so interesting is the clear differences between each player. They all have incredibly conspicuous strengths, and their weaknesses are just as apparent. They come in all different shapes, sizes, and play styles. And while throughout the process, it appears Levis has fallen by the wayside a bit, there are still powerful people within the draft industry who believe he should be the top pick in the draft.

    A lot of people help run a draft department. There will certainly be fans of the Kentucky quarterback within the walls of each organization. And it only takes one team — in this case, the Panthers — to pull the trigger. But should Levis be the No. 1 overall pick in 2023?

    Should Will Levis Be Drafted No. 1 Overall in 2023?

    According to MMQB’s Albert Breer, Levis had dinner with all of the top brass in Carolina the night before Kentucky’s Pro Day. The guest list included owner David Tepper, general manager Scott Fitterer, and head coach Frank Reich.

    For those who believe Levis is the best quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft, his final college campaign simultaneously does not matter while also showing them an incredibly important personal trait that anybody who’s been around the game of football for 40+ years covets.

    Toughness

    When asked why Levis was still the top passer for ESPN Draft godfather Mel Kiper, he was steadfast in his belief for the Kentucky QB.

    “Because I saw him in 2021 play so well,” Kiper said on NFL Live. “10-3 record he led them to, he had help from his o-line, Wan’Dale Robinson was there, and he was making throws at any point on the field, snapping it off from his ear, running with the football, running for over 100 yards on that LSU defense, was outstanding against that Georgia defense, completed a high percentage of passes against that talent-laden Bulldog squad.

    “The way he fought back from injury and played through injury, significant injuries, this year, while a lot of guys would have been watching from the sidelines, he was out there competing. Obviously, the turnovers he needs to cut down on, but I think the skill set is there, the attitude is there, the want to is there for Will Levis to be a franchise quarterback.”

    I get it. I threw out Levis’ 2022 tape as well. It was obvious that he was so compromised by injuries that he couldn’t very well be the player he wanted to be. He battled between foot, finger, and shoulder injuries in 2022, and it affected his play as a passer. In that respect, it’s easy to ignore some of the flaws we saw from his tape this season.

    “I think it’s a combination of how I’ve been able to build myself physically to kind of take those hits, but then also just the mentality, Levis said. “Even if it’s the most bone-crushing, most uncomfortable hit, I’m going to do my best to not show that to my teammates to make sure I stand as that individual that they can look to and have faith in.”

    The problem with ignoring it is that we think about how injuries can affect the player even after they’ve overcome them. Baker Mayfield is an excellent example of this. The No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft was always a mechanically inconsistent passer, but he got away with it in college and early in his NFL career.

    Coming off a nice 2020 season where the Cleveland Browns made the playoffs, he even played well in Week 1 the following season. Then, Mayfield injures his shoulder, plays through it, delays surgery, and he hasn’t been the same since.

    Playing through the injury in his non-throwing shoulder created a mechanical monster that was impossible to tame over the course of a single offseason where most of his time was spent rehabbing. A return to form is not impossible, but it will take thousands of repetitions with his personal QBs coach in the offseason to accomplish a turnaround.

    MORE: Should Bryce Young Be the No. 1 Overall Pick in 2023?

    That is the worry with Levis. Did compensating for injury create mechanical flaws that will linger into 2023 and possibly beyond? We could also pontificate on why these injuries mounted up with Levis. For that, we can look at a quarterback who, not unlike Icarus, flew too close to the sun and drowned.

    No player comparison will ever be 1:1. But in a world where we’ve seen Levis compared ad nauseam to Josh Allen, we must acknowledge that Allen is the absolute pinnacle of the hopes and prayers we have for Levis. It’s not reasonable to expect.

    Carson Wentz is not intrinsically bad as a comp, either. Hell, he was an MVP candidate — and possibly the favorite in 2017 — during the Eagles’ magical run to a Super Bowl victory with Nick Foles. But there are even differences between Wentz and Levis that make the comp a bit underwhelming.

    Wentz was magical. He made plays outside of the offensive structure with consistency. But in doing so, the hits mounted, and when the athletic magic dissipated, he never recovered. Levis doesn’t create like that, yet the 6-foot-4, 230-pound passer let the hits mount, and the injuries followed.

    Kentucky’s offensive line was abhorrent. But even in 2021, it was clear that the innate awareness and escapability we’ve seen in the likes of Lawrence and Joe Burrow were missing in Levis. Despite his perceived athleticism, Levis often stood statuesque in the pocket, allowing for a static target to be teed off on.

    Sacks are a quarterback stat. The offensive line and scheme can be mitigating factors, but in the end, it comes down to the mental prowess of the passer.

    Dak Prescott is arguably the best example of this that we’ve seen recently. He went from taking 56 sacks in 2018 to just 23 in 2019. He’d already seen NFL success as a rookie, but Dak was far from a finished product mechanically as a passer or mentally. And Prescott is interesting because that’s who Levis reminds NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah of.

    “Dak Prescott is one,” Jeremiah said. “I think that’s a fair comp for him. Same conference, same build, same toughness. The stuff on Dak, when you talk to the coaches there, you know, worker, intelligent, tough, winner. Like, you’ll hear all those exact same things said about Will Levis. They rave about him. As I think about it, that might end up being the best comparison.”

    Levis is a springier athlete than Prescott, and he certainly has an elevated arm compared to the Cowboys QB. But Prescott doesn’t win at the NFL level the way he did in college. And Prescott, despite pole-vaulting the Mississippi State Bulldogs to the top ranking in college football, ended up a fourth-round pick.

    The Draft Process Has Been Unfair to Levis

    Levis is not Allen. Levis will never be Allen. Despite the impressive physique each brings and their ability to attack a rushing lane, they’re simply different players.

    Of the top four QBs in the class, Levis has the lowest floor and lowest ceiling of the bunch. Richardson is inexperienced with clear issues mechanically in his lower half that make his ball placement inconsistent. But he’s literally a one-of-one athlete who, even at his worst, should have a Justin Fields-like impact on games because of his legs.

    Early Allen was pretty ugly, but once he started using his legs as the weapon they are, he was able to survive. Richardson will almost certainly tread water. Levis isn’t that natural runner. He can run, and he’s not awful when he’s healthy. But he can’t lean on his rushing ability the way Richardson can, and Levis still possesses the processing and accuracy issues Richardson shows as well.

    Ideally, Levis would go to a good situation where he could sit for a year and play in an offense that utilizes play-action in abundance where he can take advantage of cleaner pictures in coverage. What Arthur Smith was able to do for Ryan Tannehill comes to mind.

    MORE: Will Levis Landing Spots

    While the tone of this has been negative, this has not been meant to portray Levis as a sure-fire bust or even as a bad prospect. A big, tough, athletic, rocket-armed QB is incredibly enticing. And there is a clear path toward success for Levis. But unlike Stroud or Young, who from Day 1 could run an offense with their eyes closed, Levis doesn’t have that. He lacks Stroud’s ability to layer throws using different pacing and trajectory.

    Places like Atlanta would be an ideal fit, but they seem steadfast in their support of Desmond Ridder. Tennessee stylistically fits, but until they fix a dissolved offensive depth chart, they’d do more harm than good playing Levis. Detroit has the roster and the luxury of not having to play him in Year 1. And if Baltimore somehow does trade Lamar Jackson, they could be a sneaky landing spot for the Wildcat quarterback.

    But Levis should not, under any circumstance, be the first quarterback drafted in 2023. It’d be an incredibly poor exercise in risk mitigation and an unwarranted home-run swing at a fastball rising up and in toward the chin.

    Most importantly, it wouldn’t be fair to the player because expectations would almost surely forever exceed the expected return. And while that’s undeniably a risk no matter who Carolina drafts, at least they each have legitimate cases to go first overall.

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