Steelers NFL Draft 2023: Ex-NFL GM, QB agrees they’d rather have this top QB prospect than Kenny Pickett

Kenny Pickett is the Steelers’ new starting quarterback, but a former NFL quarterback and general manager thinks Pittsburgh would be better off with former Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.

Former Notre Dame star and NFL quarterback Brady Quinn and former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman were recently asked which quarterback would best benefit the 2023 Steelers.

“I’m taking Will Levis because of the upside,” Spielman said on the “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 better as an athlete. Definitely Levis has a stronger arm. Even though Pickett played well in the stretch… I think with Levis , there’s a little more upside down there.”

Brady said Levis reminded him of Matthew Stafford when Stafford came out of Georgia 14 years ago.

“The ball jumps out of his hands,” Brady said of Levis. “It comes out effortlessly, very similar to Stafford. They don’t need to put in a lot. They both have howitzers for weapons.”

In 24 games with the Wildcats, Levis completed nearly 66% of his passes with 43 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. During his freshman year at Kentucky, Levis helped the Wildcats win 10 games, including a 20-18 win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

At 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds, Levis has the prototypical build of an NFL quarterback. He also has a cannon for a right arm which is surely one of the reasons why he is expected to be drafted so high (here’s how we rated his combine performance). Levis’ other attributes include the fact that he’s led versions of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan’s offenses at Kentucky. A confident player who isn’t afraid to take calculated risks on the court, Levis is also capable of taking off for big wins on the court if given an opening.

Like all prospects, Levis has question marks. While confidence is generally a good trait for a quarterback, it has sometimes led Levis to commit costly turnovers (he had 25 interceptions and 17 fumbles during his college career). Ball mechanics and placement are other areas of Levis’ game that could be improved.

Brady said Levis’ advantage is also comparable to Stafford’s out of college. While neither player has incredible college stats, Quinn feels Levis’ advantage more than makes up for his lack of numbers.

“It wasn’t like, statistically speaking, (Stafford) wowed you in Georgia,” Quinn said. “Stafford is still No. 1 overall, I think a lot of it because of the upside. … (Levis has) a big arm, and he’s an even better athlete than I think Stafford even was. if I think Stafford is a better athlete than we give him credit for.”

Both Quinn and Spielman said Levis’ penchant for turnovers in college can at least in part be attributed to below-average pass protection and receivers possibly unable to hang on to 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 a backup for Mitch Trubisky, Pickett finished the season with a 7-5 record as a Steelers starter.

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Pickett’s ability to drive winning practices late in the season is one area where he has shown significant growth. But perhaps what was equally impressive was Pickett’s ability to take care of the ball after struggling to do so early on. He’s thrown just one interception in his last eight starts after throwing it to the other team eight times in his first five games.

While Levis could turn out to be a good pro, the Steelers probably won’t regret their decision to take Pickett with the 20th overall pick in last year’s draft. It will be interesting to see how Levis’ rookie season compares to what Pickett managed to do last fall with the Steelers.

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