Heading into 2022, University of Kentucky quarterback Will Levis was the talk of NFL circles. Prototypical size, ridiculous arm talent, mobility, leadership. All qualities a quarterback needs to have to succeed in today’s high-powered NFL.
But after an offseason of hype, Levis struggled to start the season and those struggles have only continued thus far. Through 10 games, he’s completed 65.9% of his passes for 2,218 yards, and 17 touchdowns. While those numbers are solid, it is the 10 interceptions and two fumbles lost that have been his demise.
It’s time to truly discuss how much of the struggles fall on Levis’ shoulders and how much his situation is hurting his stock.
Kentucky’s offensive struggles
Kentucky brought the former San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello to be the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. After helping take the 49ers to an NFC Championship, many had high hopes for Scangarello’s offense. But now, most fans are calling for a change at OC. Scangarello continued Kentucky’s traditional run-heavy offense, but the passing game leaves much to be desired.
The Wildcats’ offensive scheme relies heavily on slip screens, bubble screens, and short routes. When you have a quarterback with arguably the strongest arm in the nation, you have to let the man use it.
Levis used that arm talent to his advantage on the opening drive against Georgia. Third and 11, backed up into his own end zone, Levis attacks the consensus number one cornerback, Kelee Ringo, for a 31-yard completion. Even with Ringo attached to receiver Barion Brown’s hip, Levis’s ball placement was perfect, out and away from the defender, to give only his receiver a chance to haul in the pass.
Awesome back-shoulder touch throw from Will Levis on third down, backed up against the goal line. And an even better catch from Barion Brown.
— Ian Cummings (@IC_Draft) November 19, 2022
But after the one explosive play, Kentucky failed to call a single deep shot for the remainder of the quarter. Scangarello fell back to his ways of inside runs and screen passes. Sure, a few dink and dunk passes were called along the way, but nothing to actually utilize their best offensive weapon.
Offensive line and receiver struggles
Being in the SEC, Kentucky has to compete with the best of the best. Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and the entire conference bring the best to the table each and every season. Dominate edge rushers and lockdown corners are a weekly occurrence for the Wildcats.
While Kentucky had a solid offensive line last season, their starting left tackle, center, and right tackle declared for the NFL. In 2022, head coach Mark Stoops and company failed to acquire the necessary talent to compete at the SEC level. UK has allowed 40 sacks, tied for seventh-worst in the FBS. While not all of those sacks fall on the offensive line, they should still be credited for the majority.
Kentucky also struggles to recruit high-caliber receivers year-in-and-year-out. After losing Wan’Dale Robinson to the NFL, the Wildcats recruited Tayvion Robinson from Virginia Tech to replace him. The Wildcats leading receiver, however, is the aforementioned true freshman Barion Brown. Freshman Dane Key rounds out the big-three alongside Robinson and Brown. Having two true freshman as your leading receivers is generally not a recipe for success. While they were highly recruited prospects who have succeeded at the college level thus far, receiving corps need to have a veteran presence who truly understands the ins and outs of the game.
Out of the top four quarterback prospects (Young, Stroud, Levis, Hooker), Levis has the worst situation by far. Teams and fans alike need to take that into consideration when looking for the future face of a franchise.
Where Levis Can Improve
While some of the blame can be placed away from him, Levis still needs to improve in certain areas of the game. With the lack of a surrounding cast, Levis often plays hero-ball, leading to unnecessary risks and potential turnovers. Levis tries to do too much in order to keep his team afloat.
Even when he has time, Levis still needs to develop as a true passer. He is wildly inconsistent at all levels of the field, lacking accuracy in critical situations. He needs to continue to work on taking some juice off and leveling his passes. If Levis would have lobbed the pass to the back pylon instead of sending a rocket down the field, the Wildcats could have had a touchdown instead of an unfortunate interception by Ringo.
Kelee Ringo picks off Will Levis 👀🔒 pic.twitter.com/Myfzto3DIh
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) November 19, 2022
Levis’s stock has plummeted from its peak, but he is still a lock to be taken in the first round. While Levis may not be the best quarterback to start a rebuild, he would be an ideal candidate to take over a team ready to compete in the next year or two. The Panthers, Commanders, and Buccaneers could be stellar landing spots for the Wildcat quarterback.