Three Players Get The Call
The 2023 NFL Draft was expected to be a showcase for Kentucky Football. After all what better way to highlight your program than having a quarterback going near the top? Unfortunately for Will Levis and the Cats, they got a lot of publicity, just not the kind they wanted. Even with that at the end of the festivities, three Wildcats found NFL homes. Let’s break it down with our 2023 Kentucky NFL Recap.
Not What He Was Expecting
Heading into Thursday’s first round nearly every mock draft had Levis going in the top four. Some thought it was Houston at two or Indianapolis at four or worst case Tennessee at 11. However, it worked out Kentucky was getting their first quarterback chosen in the first round since Tim Couch went number one overall to the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999.
A poster on Reddit single-handily moved the betting market saying they had proof Levis was going to be the overall first pick. Of course that didn’t happen and he joined some exclusive company as the player still sitting in the green room not being picked. Aaron Rodgers is the most famous member of this club along with Lamar Jackson and Brady Quinn. According to ESPN’s FPI index, there was a less than .01 percent chance Levis didn’t go in the first round, but it happened. Two of the three went on to stellar NFL careers. Obviously, the jury’s still out on Levis.
Finally Getting Their Guy
The former UK signal-caller went home and didn’t stick around for the draft’s second night. However, it didn’t take long for his name to finally be called. After trading with Arizona the Tennessee Titans selected Levis with the 33rd pick, getting their QB a round later than originally thought.
🔹 High velocity passer
🔹 Power arm
🔹 Drive into window throws
🔹 Productive runner
📺 : 2023 #NFLDraft📷 – April 27-29 on NFLN/ESPN/ABC pic.twitter.com/cKw55vGBFO
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) April 28, 2023
He heads to a Titans squad with Ryan Tannehill as the starter and Malik Willis as the backup.
Levis of course started his career at Penn State. However, he could never get past Sean Clifford on the depth chart and hit the transfer portal. In a bit of a surprise, Green Bay took Clifford in the fifth round with pick 149.
Transferring to Kentucky Levis blossomed in offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s system. He led the Cats to their second 10-win season in four years throwing for 2,826 yards and 24 touchdowns. In addition, he ran for 376 yards and nine more touchdowns. When Coen went to the L.A. Rams Mark Stoops brought in Rich Scangarello as the new coordinator. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the same success.
Despite a slew of injuries including turf toe and a bad shoulder, Levis completed 65% of his passes for 2,406 yards and 19 touchdowns. In fact, his passer rating was higher in 2022 (151.3) than in 2021 (148.3). In fact, the toe injury may have led to his draft slide.
Will Levis’ left toe that caused him to miss two games last year was “problematic “ for one team that considered him.
Levis says the “toe has healed” and good to go.
Another team believes Levis could manage it but thought surgery would need discussion after season.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) April 28, 2023
Nonetheless, Levis becomes only the seventh Kentucky quarterback in history chosen and the first since Andre Woodson went to the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. As we continue with our 2023 Kentucky NFL Draft Recap let’s look at the other two players chosen.
Starting Their NFL Dream
Going back to our pro day recap one player who helped his draft stock was Chris Rodriguez. The school’s third all-time leading rusher was chosen in the sixth round by the Washington Commanders at 193. He joins former Cat Jamin Davis, who went in the first round two years ago. In his career, Rodriguez ran for 3,644 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was on pace to beat Benny Snell’s mark but missed the first four games of 2022 due to suspension.
He enters a crowded running back room in Washington. However new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is reportedly very high on Rodriguez.
Another player we highlighted in our draft preview was cornerback Carrington Valentine. He was selected by Green Bay in the seventh round with pick 232. During his three years at Kentucky Valentine made 118 tackles and two sacks. This past season Valentine had 48 tackles, a sack, and an interception. He also led the team with 10 passes defended. He’s the fifth Kentucky defensive back chosen since 2019.
Offensive lineman Tashawn Manning, another player thought to be a late draft pick, signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Linebacker DeAndre Square signed a deal with the Los Angeles Rams while linebacker Jacquez Jones received a mini-camp invite from the Atlanta Falcons. Lastly, cornerback Keidron Smith signed a deal with the Miami Dolphins.
While it didn’t quite turn out the way many in the Big Blue Nation wanted this year’s draft was a success for Kentucky. The three players taken makes 20 who have gone in the last five years. That came after having no Wildcats selected in 207-18. Thank you for checking out our 2023 Kentucky NFL Draft Recap here at Last Word On College Football.
Matt Stone / USA TODAY NETWORK