Kenny Pickett is the Steelers' new starting quarterback, but a former NFL quarterback and general manager feel Pittsburgh would be better off with former Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.
Former Notre Dame standout and NFL quarterback Brady Quinn and former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman were recently asked which quarterback would better benefit the 2023 Steelers.
"I'm taking Will Levis because of the upside," Spielman said on "With the First Pick" podcast.
"Same, I'd probably take Levis," Quinn said. "Kenny Pickett is a good athlete, I think Will Levis is probably a little bit even better of an athlete. Definitely, Levis has a stronger arm. Even though Pickett played well down the stretch ... I think with Levis, there's a little more upside there."
Brady said that Levis reminds him of Matthew Stafford when Stafford was coming out of Georgia 14 years ago.
"The ball jumps out of his hands," Brady said of Levis. "Just comes out effortlessly, very similar to Stafford. They don't have to put much on it. They both have howitzers for arms."
In 24 games with the Wildcats, Levis completed nearly 66 percent of his passes with 43 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. During his first year at Kentucky, Levis helped the Wildcats win 10 games that included a 20-18 win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.
At 6-3 and 222 pounds, Levis has the prototypical build of an NFL quarterback. He also has a cannon for a right arm that is surely one of the reasons why he is expected to be drafted so high (here's how we graded his combine performance). Levis' other attributes include the fact that he ran versions of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan's offenses at Kentucky. A confident player who isn't afraid to take calculated risks downfield, Levis is also capable of taking off for big gains on the ground if given an opening.
Like every prospect, Levis has some question marks. While confidence is typically a good trait for a quarterback to have, it at times has led to Levis committing costly turnovers (he had 25 interceptions and 17 fumbles during his college career). Mechanics and ball placement are other areas of Levis' game that could use further improvement.
Brady said that Levis' upside is also comparable to Stafford's coming out of college. While neither player had amazing college stats, Quinn feels that Levis' upside more than makes up for his lack of numbers.
"It wasn't like statistically speaking (Stafford) was wowing you at Georgia," Quinn said. "Stafford still went No. 1 overall, I think in large part because of the upside. ... (Levis has) a big arm, and he's an even better athlete than I think Stafford was even though I think Stafford is a better athlete than we give him credit for."
Both Quinn and Spielman said that Levis' penchant for turnovers in college could at least partly be attributed to subpar pass protection and receivers possibly being unable to hang onto Levis' rocket throws.
Quinn acknowledged that, unlike Levis, Pickett already has a year under his belt as an NFL quarterback, which makes it harder to compare the two. As noted above, Quinn also alluded to the fact that Pickett saw marked improvement as his rookie season progressed. After starting the year as Mitch Trubisky's backup, Pickett ended the season with a 7-5 record as the Steelers' starter.
Pickett's ability to lead game-winning drives late in the season is one area where he showed significant growth. But perhaps what was just as impressive was Pickett's ability to take care of the ball down the stretch after struggling to do so early on. He threw just one interception during his final eight starts after throwing it to the other team eight times during his first five games.
While Levis may turn out to be a good pro, the Steelers probably don't regret their decision to take Pickett with the 20th overall pick in last year's draft. It'll be interesting to see how Levis' rookie season compares to what Pickett was able to do last fall with the Steelers.