Insider: Will Levis is an enigma, but will he become the Colts' enigma?
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Will Levis heard the play call and couldn't help his eyes from wandering into the distance. Ever since one line at the NFL combine took a life of its own ‒ "I have a cannon and I want to show it off" ‒ he's waited for this moment.
But he's been waiting far longer than that, too.
The former Kentucky quarterback took the ball and dropped back nine steps before floating on his feet in the pocket, buying time for a wide receiver to fly full speed down the green turf of Nutter Field House. Levis drifted back up to the 25-yard line and uncorked a ball that hung in the air like a balloon running on helium until it dropped into two outstretched arms in the end zone on the other side of the field.
The ball traveled 75 yards in the air. More importantly, it found its target in that space called an end zone where a few different dreams can launch.
This is Levis, in his moment, riding his tools and seeing where they can take him. Like all top rookies entering the league at the most scrutinized position, he's facing enough questions about what's surrounding the limb attached to his right shoulder ‒ like his feet and his grip and his feel ‒ that the natural response was to do what he did as a young boy in the northeast the first time he picked up a football.
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"That's just who he is. The man would throw 50 yards on his knees hitting the goal posts. That's just who he is," Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez said. "If you draft him, you'll get a once-in-a-blue-moon type of quarterback."
The last time he threw publicly was at the combine, on a day of Anthony Richardson's record-setting measurables and C.J. Stroud's pinpoint throws. The ball traveled long distances but didn't always hit a target right in stride. For a moment amid the NFL's hype machine, Levis started to fade into the shadows, to a place he's been before.
Here is a 6-foot-4 quarterback with a rocket launcher of an arm, a create-a-player in a sport where coaches turn over every stone looking for the next Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes.
Here, too, is a kid who has seen it stifled when he was used primarily as a runner at Penn State, when he was a backup to Sean Clifford, when he transferred to a Kentucky program trying to rise up in the gauntlet of the Southeastern Conference but went 7-6.
He is a ball of ferocious energy, and that inertia could lead him to ascend or combust. In the same workout where he launched 75-yard fade routes and 30-yard sideline connections on the move, he also threw a ball into the rafters. A couple of his passes came in too hot for his receivers to handle.
It all added tweaks to take back into the lab.
"I have as talented of an arm as anybody, and even when I don't have efficient movements and am off-pace a little, I can still pull it off because of how strong my arm is," Levis said. "But being able to move to a position as efficiently as possible, to get my feet in the right spots, to be consistent and efficient in my delivery has been the biggest part of the training."
Levis can offer a 65% completion rate, 17 rushing touchdowns, five years of experience and a highlight reel of bombs on the run and trucking Southeastern Conference linebackers. He also threw 23 interceptions in two seasons and took an inordinate number of sacks.
For better and for worse, Levis did what he promised he would when he transferred to Kentucky: He never let a play die.
"He's tough as nails," Kentucky guard Tashawn Manning said. "Before I got here, they told me that he likes to run guys over. As an O-Lineman, you're like, 'You need to chill out.' You don't want your quarterback to get hit. But you see him running full-speed into somebody and I'm like, 'Bro, what in the world is going on right now?'
"That's one of my earliest impressions of Will, seeing how gritty and dawg mentality he has."
Perhaps Levis' volatility will scare some teams in a draft where Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud present more safer and developed options. Those kids also haven't been challenged the way he has, and they can't put the ball in all the places he can.
Sometimes, dreams can get scary. Levis makes it feel like any range of outcomes is possible on a given play, which at its heart contains the sheer human potential found in the quarterbacks who currently rule the AFC.
"He's very critical and hard on himself first," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "We all know when it's a clean pocket and everything's beautiful and there's 10 five-stars to throw to, how pretty that looks. We're not blessed with that opportunity, so I think there's a lot of film for people to watch with Will."
Levis seems determined to keep the blood flowing either way. Ever since he packed up his car and drove seven hours from Penn State to Kentucky for a visit, he's thought of his future like that leather in the palm of his hands. His fingers are on the laces, gripping untapped potential with the understanding that none of it will matter without pristine direction and control.
He's played for three offensive coordinators in three seasons. The past two, under Liam Coen and Rich Scangarello, have mirrored the pro-style offenses deployed by teams like the 49ers, Rams, Vikings and Browns, with under-center play-action and audibles. The constant changing of schools, systems and surrounding personnel has kept this enigma from finding a true ecosystem but have also hardened the shell to survive in an array of them.
"If I'm going to be a high draft pick, some of those teams are in some of those rebuilding phases. It's not going to be the No. 1 team in the league right away," Levis said. "To be a part of that climb upwards toward the top is really, really cool to me and what attracts me to want to play for those teams."
Can weaknesses be strengths and strengths be weaknesses? That's the question teams are wrestling with as they dive into Levis in these top-30 in-house visits. He's had one with the Texans, and he has five more on the schedule, including one with Indianapolis. He'll sit down with owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard, new coach Shane Steichen and new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and try to prove that he's both an unfinished product and ready to invest in right now.
The Colts placed their faith in area scout Mike Lacy, who tracked every one of Levis' movements. The Colts aren't tipping their hand, but they will get to feel the Levis experience when he performs a private workout at West 56th Street.
In five weeks, the Colts could get to decide whether this experience is one they want to live. It's a rollercoaster, but the highs could be places none of them have seen or been, like a ball spiraling 75 yards through the air.
Contact Colts insider Nate Atkins at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts: Will Levis is an enigma, but can he become a franchise QB?