If Jalen Carter slid down the NFL draft board, then what happened to Will Levis was a fall plus a tumble with an inevitable crash landing still to come.
The unthinkable happened Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo., when Levis, the cannon-armed quarterback out of Kentucky, fell out of the first round completely and lost millions of dollars on his first NFL contract. The Steelers, who drafted quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first round last season, hold the first pick of the second round and could be fielding trade offers Friday if any team sees Levis as a potential steal.
Carter, a defensive tackle from Georgia, might have been a top-three pick based on his talent, if not for character concerns. He was arrested in February in connection with a car accident that killed two classmates and then flopped at his Pro Day, adding to questions about his effort.
Carter’s slide ended at No. 9, where the defensive-line-obsessed Eagles traded up one spot and reunited him with three college teammates to create a support system of trusted influences: 2022 draft picks Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, plus Nolan Smith, whom Philadelphia took with the No. 30 pick Thursday.
“I told them they got the best player in the draft,” Carter said when asked what he said to the Eagles on his phone call.
Levis could only wish his wait was as short as Carter’s.
Three of the first four picks were quarterbacks: The Panthers took Alabama’s Bryce Young No. 1 overall, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud went second to the Texans and the Colts, at No. 4, selected Florida’s Anthony Richardson. That set the stage for a potentially historic night. Instead of four quarterbacks being chosen in the first four or five picks for the first time in the common draft era (since 1967) or being among the top 10 picks for the second time, Levis plummeted.
The Seahawks (No. 5 and No. 20) passed twice, though they had told starting quarterback Geno Smith that they might pick a QB. The Raiders (No. 7), Falcons (No. 8), Titans (No. 11), Patriots (No. 14, traded to No. 18) and Buccaneers (No. 19) all passed after they had hosted Levis at their facilities in recent weeks for top-30 visits, according to ESPN.
So, now Levis is left looking at stories of quarterbacks who dropped and made the league pay, such as Dan Marino (the sixth QB taken in the first round in 1983), Aaron Rodgers (who slipped from a potential No. 1 pick to No. 24 in 2005) or Jalen Hurts (who slipped to the second round in 2020).
Get the complete list of first-round 2023 NFL Draft picks, with analysis and more from the New York Post.
Though he is not one to lack confidence, Levis often looked dazed when television cameras found him in the green room.
“My goal is to win more than anybody,” Levis said at the NFL combine. “I want to be the greatest of all time. I feel like you are crazy if you don’t think that way.”
Levis, who transferred from Penn State to Kentucky after losing a battle to start to Sean Clifford, had two starkly different one-year careers (playing in two different offensive systems) over the past two seasons. He was brilliant in 2021, but was prone to turnovers and injuries last season.
Hendon Hooker, who was considered another possible first-round quarterback selection, also was not picked. The Tennessee product, who is known for his accuracy, suffered a torn ACL in November, but has progressed to drop-back drills in his recovery.