Quarterbacks were always bound to be the defining story of the 2023 NFL draft. But after three were chosen in the first four selections Thursday, the spotlight turned to a player who didn’t hear his name called on Day 1.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis endured an extended slide all the way out of the first round, creating an awkward wait for a player who was on hand in Kansas City, Missouri, and surely expected to be celebrating by now.
Instead, Levis looks bound to have his professional football fate determined Friday. But determining his exact landing spot won’t be easy.
Here are eight teams that could be candidates to take Levis:
Let’s call Tennessee the front-runner for Levis, as the Titans have both the means (the No. 41 pick) and motivation to make this happen. Levis went on a pre-draft visit to Tennessee, and new general manager Ran Carthon has kept all options on the table at quarterback.
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With Ryan Tannehill entering the final year of his contract, Levis could sit for a season before Carthon takes stock next offseason of what he wants to do behind center. If he develops to the Titans’ liking, Levis could allow the team to flip from a facilitator to a playmaker behind center. USA TODAY Sports’ final mock draft pegged Levis to the Titans with the No. 11 overall pick. Maybe we were just a round too early.
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles should have plenty of intel on Levis given that Liam Coen, the quarterback’s former offensive coordinator at Kentucky, served on the team’s staff last year before returning to the school. There’s also some schematic overlay with Sean McVay’s attack that would make this a more natural fit than several of the other alternatives here. And the Rams surely have to be pondering their options behind center given the retirement rumors that have swirled around 35-year-old Matthew Stafford.
Still, it might be farfetched for the Rams to use their first selection on the draft at No. 36 overall on a player who won’t provide any returns for at least a year or two. McVay and Co. are hungry to return to the NFC’s contending ranks after a disastrous 5-12 campaign, and the opportunity is certainly there given the state of the conference. To do that, however, GM Les Snead will need to address some key deficiencies in the draft, including cornerback, edge rusher and tight end.
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In short, the Rams would really need to be convinced that Levis is something special in order to pull the trigger here.
Yes, Minnesota isn’t scheduled to be back on the clock until well into Round 3 – No. 87 overall. But Levis could make a fitting option for the team to consider as it weighs its future with Kirk Cousins.
Despite backing the 11-year veteran as his starter throughout the offseason, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has kept the door open for the team to turn to a stylistically different player behind center. Levis is certainly that, his daredevil playing style and comfort operating outside of structure drawing a sharp contrast to Cousins. And bringing Levis in would give Minnesota its preferred timeline to weigh a possible quarterback change, giving the Kentucky product a year in the system before Cousins becomes a free agent next offseason. But it would take some urgency for Adofo-Mensah to make a move – unless Levis tumbles significantly further.
Detroit always seemed like a long shot to do anything at quarterback with either of its two first-round selections, and the possibility essentially became a moot point with the top three players at the position flying off in the first four picks. In the second round, however, the Lions look like the first team that could be a consideration for Levis when they come on the clock at No. 34.
Like Minnesota, Detroit could entertain an eventual change of pace behind center by bringing on the rifle-armed passer who thrives throwing off platform. It’s just not clear that’s what the Lions want after Jared Goff proved extremely efficient in Ben Johnson’s attack.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s tour of the top four quarterbacks’ pro days didn’t yield a signal-caller selection with either of the Seahawks’ two first-round picks. That’s understandable given the high-quality players Seattle managed to snare in cornerback Devon Witherspoon and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But it certainly seems that the Seahawks have done their homework on Levis, who could sit behind Geno Smith while he receives needed NFL tutelage.
But with Smith in the fold and backup Drew Lock having re-signed, it’s entirely possible that Carroll and Schneider were merely doing due diligence at the position.
New England Patriots
Don’t laugh. Levis went on a top-30 visit to the Patriots, and Bill Belichick hardly seems dug in on Mac Jones. The starter’s seat wouldn’t immediately be in jeopardy, but taking Levis could put him on notice and give Belichick a more physically gifted alternative to Bailey Zappe if Jones falters under Bill O’Brien’s guidance.
There are ample other possibilities for New England at No. 46, though – and no guarantee Levis will still be available. The offensive line in particular looks due for more assistance. And even if Belichick is curious about a quarterback, he could be drawn to Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker instead.
Las Vegas Raiders
Had the Raiders selected Levis at No. 7 overall, many analysts would not have flinched. Before signing Jimmy Garoppolo in free agency, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said the team was seeking a quarterback who was “going to be here for a long time.” Could Levis be that long-term option at No. 38?
The alignment between skill set and scheme might not be there. From Garoppolo to Tom Brady and Mac Jones, McDaniels seems to prioritize consistent accuracy. That’s hardly a strong suit of Levis, whose ball placement last season was erratic at best. And while the Raiders still have 11 selections remaining, they still have significant work to do in finding additional starters on defense after scooping up Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson at No. 7.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have repeatedly been linked to quarterbacks throughout the pre-draft process, as Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask don’t inspire a ton of confidence as sustainable starters. Of all the options for Levis, however, this one seems the least likely.
For one, pairing Todd Bowles – a coach who is hypercautious with his offensive approach given his intolerance to turnovers – with a player who threw 23 interceptions in the last two years is a recipe for disaster. More importantly, however, the Buccaneers have emphasized that they want their next quarterback to be a distributor rather than a world-beater. Levis’ playing style simply might be untenable here. And for a team that looks poised to select a quarterback early next year, this could be a waste of a Day 2 asset.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.