If the NFL’s evaluation of quarterbacks in recent years has taught us anything, it’s that most will get it wrong. Only four quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds of an NFL draft in the last decade are guaranteed to start in Week 1 next season.
Properly evaluating quarterbacks is both the most important and the most difficult aspect of the game.
Perhaps it’s due to the nature of the position; no single factor guarantees success at the next level. One of the most widely used sets of guidelines in the scouting world is Bill Parcells’ checklist of must-haves when evaluating a quarterback prospect. But is it still relevant today? It’s almost amusing.
Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson would all have failed to go 7-for-7 and, as a result, would have been passed over by the Big Tuna.
So then what about those evaluating quarterbacks currently? There must be something that unites NFL players as a “must-have” on the road to success. No, not quite. “Make good decisions,” says Bill Belichick. Former Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has stated on the record that “accuracy” is important. Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, says quarterback prospects “have to be able to spin it,” referring to their arm strength.
It should come as no surprise that evaluating a complex position is, well, complex. But, in the end, quarterback evaluation is no different than any other position. It all boils down to how well you can answer the following questions:
Who exactly are they?
What are they capable of becoming?
What are their chances of making it?
There is no quarterback in the 2023 class who will put scouts’ ability to answer those questions to the test more than Kentucky’s Will Levis — the No. 2 signal-caller on PFF’s big board and the No. 3 prospect overall. He’s a redshirt senior, 6-foot-3, 232 pounds, with a rocket launcher attached to his right shoulder. The Wildcats’ pro day isn’t until later this spring, but I can already predict that he’ll be lauded by every media outlet for his performance. Take a look at these throws:
And how well he moves for his size:
His pros and cons list, which follows, is not dissimilar to Josh Allen’s list from Wyoming:
Right arm with a flamethrower
Ideal build that can withstand a blow
Pocket twitchy mover
Will step in and deliver strikes when necessary.
Elite quarterback sneaker. 22-of-23 sneaks converted in career
Thrower with only one speed
Will likely always struggle on touch passes with short-arm delivery
The bad habit of attempting to do too much and forcing throws
Unfortunately, that sounds like a lot of athletic quarterback projects in the draft. And for every Josh Allen, there’s a Jake Locker at home on Sundays watching games. That is why the NFL still prefers high-end on-field production at the top of the draft.
This is where Levis falls far short. There’s no sugarcoating it: Levis in 2022 was difficult to watch at times. His statistics against Power Five opponents are as follows:
PFF Passing Score: 61.2
179.4 yards per game
Comp % 62.2%
Big-Time makes 5 throws
7 Turnover-Deserving Plays
There isn’t a single data point or advanced stat in the PFF database that can make the preceding bearable. There are only excuses for why this occurred. On 37.8% of his dropbacks, he was under pressure (FBS average: 31.4% | NFL average: 33.6%). He completed a tight-window pass on 46.4% of his 10-plus yard downfield attempts (FBS average: 39.2% | NFL average: 39.7%). While this demonstrates how difficult Levis’ job description was for the Wildcats this season, it says nothing about how he’ll fare when his supporting cast improves.
Fortunately, we got a glimpse of it in 2021. Levis received a 90.6 overall grade when he had a receiver who could get open at an NFL level (Wan’Dale Robinson) and a coordinator who could coordinate at an NFL level (Liam Coen). That season, his tape against the behemoth Georgia defense was as good as anyone’s who wasn’t named Bryce Young looked against them.
He finished the game with an 83.3 overall grade and made a grand total of zero turnover-worthy plays. While the tape was excellent for evaluators, if that was the guy we saw every week, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Levis is already a lock to be the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. And therein lies the most difficult of the three scouting questions to answer. We’re all just trying to figure out how likely it is that a player will consistently perform to their full potential. Because Levis has demonstrated that his abilities are exceptional, but he has done so infrequently that achieving consistency appears difficult.
When it comes down to being the last man standing in a 32-team league full of physical freaks at the quarterback position, it’s the quarterbacks with the highest maximum capabilities who can get you to the Lombardi Trophy. That is why Will Levis remains deserving of — and, in my opinion, will be — a top-five draft pick on April 27.