Heading into the 2022 college football season, it looked like Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud would spend the year battling to be the top quarterback taken in the 2023 NFL draft.
Apparently, though, there's a third contender making noise in NFL front offices.
Matt Miller of ESPN reported some teams currently have Kentucky's Will Levis ranked as the top quarterback in the class, pointing to his "arm talent and mobility."
If Levis goes ahead of Young and/or Stroud next April, it will be based entirely on NFL front office projection rather than performance. The senior transferred out of Penn State after being unable to beat out Sean Clifford—a quarterback who will not be receiving any NFL attention—and has put up solid-but-unspectacular stats since arriving at Kentucky.
Levis has thrown for 1,405 yards and 12 touchdowns against four interceptions in five games but has not looked impressive against top competition. Florida's defense overwhelmed Levis in a narrow Wildcats win last month, and he fumbled on a potential game-winning drive two weeks ago against Ole Miss.
By contrast, Stroud has emerged as the runaway favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He's already thrown for 1,737 yards and an FBS-high 24 touchdowns; Ohio State has scored fewer than 45 points just once all season.
Young was the Heisman winner a year ago and was off to another stellar start to the season before suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out of last week's win over Texas A&M. His status ahead of Saturday's marquee matchup with Tennessee is yet to be determined, but the injury isn't something that's expected to linger long enough to impact how he's viewed by NFL scouts.
While college production isn't a direct predictor of how a player will fare at the NFL level, it's hard to find the logic in Levis being ranked over Young or Stroud. Young is a little smaller than the ideal quarterback at 6'0" and 194 pounds, but he can make every throw, scrambles well out of the pocket, and the NFL's adoption of shotgun-heavy schemes make his height less of a detriment than in past decades.
Stroud carries the stigma of the recent failures of Ohio State quarterbacks to develop into NFL stars, but there are no obvious flaws in his game. His performance on the big stages has been impeccable.
When contrasted with a guy who had to transfer to find a starting job and has been inconsistent when given one, there doesn't appear to be much comparison. That said, NFL front offices and scouts have their own vision that isn't always dictated by what seems obvious to the public.