Kentucky quarterback Will Levis was projected as high as the second overall pick in the NFL draft. Instead, he’s heading to Round 2 still waiting for a team to buzz his phone.
“Not shocked — surprised,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., who had projected Levis as a top-four pick. “Once it got into that no-man’s land because there was nobody needing a quarterback mid-round, I thought maybe somebody would jump back in. Maybe the Rams would.
“But the Rams pick early in the second round. Maybe they look at Will Levis,” Kiper said. “You know, he had the banged up year. Head to toe he was beat up, didn’t play nearly as well as he did in 2021, for obvious reasons — he was hurt, he couldn’t move. So, I guess teams held that against him more than I thought they would.”
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Other mock drafters figured Levis could go as high as No. 2 overall.
“We all thought he’d be a first-round pick,” Kiper said, figuring at worst that Levis would drop to Tampa Bay at No. 19. “Well, he got down a lot further than that. He’s available in the second round.”
Just like Boomer Esiason, Brett Favre, and Geno Smith once were.
Quarterbacks were back en vogue in Round 1 of the NFL draft — except for Levis and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, another intriguing prospect still on the board after being bypassed on a wild Thursday night that featured several surprising swaps, two running backs selected among the top dozen picks and a late run on a thin class of wide receivers.
Three of the first four selections were quarterbacks a year after only one QB was drafted in the first round and the third passer wasn’t chosen until the 86th overall pick in Round 3.
Carolina made Bryce Young of Alabama the top overall pick and Houston chose Ohio State’s CJ Stroud over Levis and the Colts bypassed Levis for Florida QB Anthony Richardson Jr.
Hooker is coming off a torn ACL in November, so slipping into Day 2 was only a mild surprise for the 25-year-old passer who’s hurdled concerns about his health, age and playing style this spring, just not enough to go in the first round.
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Levis sat uncomfortably, sometimes squirming under the watchful eyes of millions of television viewers after several mock drafters projected him to follow Young to the podium to pose with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, jersey in hand.
Levis and, to a lesser extent, Hooker were seen as first-round locks by many largely because having a star quarterback has become a prerequisite to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy like Patrick Mahomes did while firing up the crowd of Chiefs fans before the draft began in Kansas City.
Rounds 2 and 3 are Friday night followed by the final four rounds Saturday.
Other strong prospects who had to wait overnight include Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, two members of a bumper class of tight ends spearheaded by Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, who was selected 25th overall by the Buffalo Bills, providing Josh Allen with the red zone target he sorely has lacked.
There’s also cornerbacks Brian Branch of Alabama, Joey Porter Jr. of Penn State and Kelee Ringo of Georgia. Branch played the slot corner role in Tuscaloosa as the fulcrum of Nick Saban’s defense. He saw three of his college teammates hear their names called within the top 12 picks Thursday.
The top lineman left on the board is Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence, who held his own against Georgia star Jalen Carter at the Senior Bowl. Carter, who had a role in a fatal crash after the Bulldogs’ national championship celebration, went to NFC champion Philadelphia with the ninth pick Thursday night.
Four NFL teams were simply spectators to all the wheeling and dealing and tears of joy and relief Thursday night as they had traded away their first-round picks long ago. The Miami Dolphins were stripped of their first-rounder — No. 21 — for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton while they were still under contract with other teams.
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The Rams (36th overall pick) and Dolphins (51st) jump into the action in Round 2 on Friday, and the Broncos (67th) and Browns (74th) must wait for the third round, barring a trade to move up.
The 49ers, who traded away their No. 1 in the Trey Lance deal and dealt their second- and third-rounders to acquire Christian McCaffrey, will have to watch 98 players go off the board before they get to use their compensatory pick between Rounds 3 and 4.
The Associated Press contributed to this article