Will Levis

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Saints, Matthews

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer provided rare transparency about his team’s first-round decision ahead of last year’s draft, indicating the team was likely down to quarterback or left tackle at No. 6 overall. The pick became Ikem Ekwonu, and the non-Kenny Pickett QB contingent tumbled into the third round. Carolina scooped up one of those arms, Matt Corral, but he missed the season due to injury. With Sam Darnold ticketed for free agency, the Panthers face another offseason of QB questions.

Both Fitterer and assistant GM Dan Morgan spent much of the fall scouting the top four quarterbacks in the 2023 class in person, according Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). Some of these passers will be gone by the time the Panthers pick at No. 9. Mel Kiper Jr.’s first 2023 mock draft has Carolina, however, taking the fourth quarterback in this year’s class — Florida’s Anthony Richardson — in Round 1. The scouting missions to see Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Will Levis and the team’s long-running need at the position will connect it to a potential trade-up maneuver. The Bears, who traded up for Justin Fields after the Panthers passed on Stroud’s Ohio State predecessor two years ago, are open for business at No. 1. It remains to be seen which non-QB-needy teams from Nos. 2-8 will join them.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • The Saints are retaining offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael for what will be his 14th season in the role, but Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com notes they moved on from their second-longest-tenured offensive staffer. The Saints parted ways with Dan Roushar after 10 seasons. Roushar, 62, had held a number of key roles on New Orleans’ staff since 2013 — offensive line coach and running backs coach among them — but was working as the team’s run-game coordinator and tight ends coach over the past two seasons. The Saints ranked 18th and 19th on the ground, respectively, over the past two years. A former college OC, Roushar has only coached for the Saints at the NFL level.
  • As more details surface on Michael Thomasrecent restructure, the likelier it appears the Saints will release him. The former All-Pro’s reworked deal includes a $31MM roster bonus due on Day 3 of the 2023 league year, and Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football adds Thomas would collect a whopping $30MM if he is active for four games next season (Twitter link). So, if Thomas is on the Saints’ roster absent another restructure, he would collect a cool $61MM. That reality seems … unlikely to commence. If Thomas is designated as a post-June 1 cut, the Saints would only be tagged with $11MM-plus in dead money this year.
  • In more Saints restructure news, the team pushed back the void-year vesting dates for David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport. Both D-linemen’s contracts are now set to void March 14, as opposed to February 17, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. That gives the team more time to negotiate extensions with each free agent-to-be, and GM Mickey Loomis said recently (via Underhill) the team is interested in re-signing both. Due to restructuring Davenport’s fifth-year option, the Saints would be tagged with $7.6MM in dead money absent an extension before March 14 — the final day of the 2022 league year. A $10.2MM bill would come if Onyemata is not extended by that date.
  • The Falcons created $4.2MM in 2023 cap space by doing another Jake Matthews restructure. The team accelerated $7MM of the left tackle’s 2023 roster bonus onto its 2022 payroll, Yates tweets. After eating considerable dead money over the past two years — much of it from the Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Deion Jones trades — the Falcons are set to hold the second-most cap space in the NFL — more than $56MM.

Rams OC Liam Coen To Return To Kentucky

DECEMBER 15: Coen is on track to return to Kentucky, but it is not believed the Rams will need to find an interim OC to finish out the season. Coen has not yet finalized a deal with the SEC program, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes, and is expected to close out the season with the Rams. While Coen has spent four of the past five seasons with the Rams, he appears ticketed to leave the NFL level for a stretch.

DECEMBER 9: Although Sean McVay assistants have vaulted to HC positions at the NFL level, the sixth-year Rams coach will need to find a new right-hand man on offense for 2023. Liam Coen is heading back to Kentucky to take over the position he held in 2021.

Coen will be a one-and-done as a Rams OC, with Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com reporting he will move to the same position at Kentucky (Twitter link). A former Rams position coach, Coen had come back to Los Angeles to replace Kevin O’Connell this past offseason.

The Wildcats recently fired OC Rich Scangarello, who had previously served as an NFL quarterbacks coach and the Broncos’ OC. Scangarello trekked to the college level after six years as an NFL assistant, twice as a Kyle Shanahan staffer in San Francisco. Brian Griese replaced Scangarello as 49ers quarterbacks coach. Coen will now reassume the reins at Kentucky.

Coen, 37, is far from a college lifer. He spent three years on McVay’s staff before initially trekking to Kentucky in 2021. Coen’s first L.A.-to-Lexington move represented a responsibility bump, considering he was working under McVay and O’Connell as assistant quarterbacks coach in 2020. This latest jump may look like a lateral move, but Coen — like O’Connell, Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor — did not call plays with the Rams. McVay has held that responsibility since arriving from Washington, becoming one of this era’s top offensive gurus.

McVay’s status helped O’Connell, LaFleur, Taylor and even the defensively oriented Brandon Staley to HC jobs, but Coen will take a different route. The Wildcats are coming off a regression offensively. Despite employing first-round quarterback prospect Will Levis, the 2022 Wildcats ranked 106th in scoring offense. Levis broke through under Coen in 2021, and Kentucky ranked 36th in scoring (32.3 points per game). Mark Stoops’ team went 10-3 that season; it is 7-5 this year.

The Rams also took a step back offensively this season, though injuries played a significant role in the defending Super Bowl champions cratering on this side of the ball. L.A.’s offense ranked in the top 10 in total offense and points last season; it sits 29th and 31st, respectively, after 13 games. The team has been without Matthew Stafford at points, and McVay admitted the recently extended quarterback’s offseason elbow injury affected him during the season. Cooper Kupp and much of the Rams’ offensive line have also missed extensive time. Coen did play a key role in helping Baker Mayfield somehow go from Tuesday waiver claim to leading a comeback victory over the Raiders on Thursday night. Still, the Rams are set to finish outside the top 11 in total offense for the first time in McVay’s tenure.

Coen will not have the opportunity to work with Levis for a second time. The high-profile prospect is passing on a potential extra year of college, via the NCAA’s decision to provide an additional eligibility year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to enter the draft. Coen will also follow offensive assistant Jake Peetz in leaving the Rams for a college gig. Peetz, who joined McVay’s staff this year, is joining Matt Rhule at Nebraska.

Latest On 2023 QB Draft Class

As the regular season continues to wind down for the teams near the bottom of the standings in the NFL, attention will turn increasingly to the upcoming draft class. This year’s crop of prospects was thought at the beginning of the year to include far superior options at the quarterback position relative to 2022, but that may not be the case in the eyes of some evaluators.

As detailed by Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, the 2023 class of passers is not viewed by some around the league in the same light as their pre- and in-season buzz would suggest. Alabama’s Bryce Young is seen as the clear-cut top signal-caller, which puts him in a good position to be drafted first overall. With the Texans looking increasingly likely to finish with the worst record in the league, they are expected to hold the No. 1 pick in the spring.

Young’s numbers are down this season compared to his Heisman-winning campaign of last year, but that has not been seen as a regression so much as a reflection of an underwhelming Crimson Tide offense around him. Nevertheless, one source expressed concern to La Canfora about the six-foot, 194-pounder’s upside at the pro level. Similar questions could be asked of C.J. Stroud, the Buckeyes passer whose stock may have taken a hit given his and Ohio State’s performances down the stretch this season. He and the team still have the CFP semifinal available to generate momentum for the spring, of course.

Other highly-regarded QBs in this class include Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. The latter – who officially declared for the draft last week – is perceived to have perhaps the highest ceiling in the group from an athletic standpoint. Both have been named as first-round candidates, but significant holes in their games have led to doubts about their NFL readiness in 2023 in particular.

Evaluation of these and other passers comes against the backdrop of few teams near the top of the board being locks to pursue upgrades at the position during the offseason. Another factor greatly influencing the college environment is NIL money. As Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl notes (on Twitter), the spike in players using the transfer portal in de-facto free agency has – among other things – “considerably” shrunk the list of signal-callers entering this year’s draft.

Plenty is still to be determined between now and Day 1 of the draft, including further examination of the top QBs. While a repeat of last spring – where Kenny Pickett was the only first-rounder – is still highly unlikely, though, the position may not dominate the top of the board as some predicted not long ago.

2023 QB Draft Notes: Levis, Young, Richardson

Entering the second half of the NFL regular season, a number of teams are starting to look towards the upcoming draft. This year’s class is expected to feature a more promising group of quarterbacks compared to 2022, with Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud long considered the headliners.

Another name has seen a steady rise throughout the college season, however. Kentucky’s Will Levis continues to generate buzz during his second year with the Wildacats. After making 14 appearances in his first two years with Penn State, Levis has upped his production considerably since 2021. The 6-3, 222-pounder has also been erratic, on the other hand, leading to serious questions about his NFL readiness come the spring and summer.

In spite of that, PFF’s Doug Kyed recently cited two sources who deemed it “likely” that Levis will find himself being drafted in top-10 of the 2023 draft. That falls in line with previous buzz this season, with some whispers even indicating Levis could overtake Young and Stroud as the top QB off the board. Per ESPN’s Todd McShay, Levis has drawn comparisons to Josh Allen and Carson Wentz from NFL general managers based on his blend of size and athleticism – with the caveat that a significant amount of refinement in his passing ability will be needed for him to reach his potential.

Here are some other QB notes regarding the 2023 class:

  • The aforementioned Young entered the season with massive expectations, given his Heisman-winning performance in 2021. The junior has not been able to replicate his success from last year, though, with a dip in completion percentage (63%) and yards per attempt average (8.9). Overall, the 8-2 Crimson Tide are lacking at the skill positions and up front compared to most seasons, greatly contributing to Young’s step back. As noted by McShay’s colleague Matt Miller, though, NFL evaluators are not holding that fact against him, which likely means Young will still be among the first players to hear his name called in the spring.
  • Another name who has been the subject of plenty of pre-draft buzz is Anthony Richardson. The Florida prospect generated excitement heading into the season with his athletic profile, but also had a distinct lack of experience. Another raw talent like Levis, the 6-4 passer has been inconsistent through the air (55% completion percentage, seven interceptions in 10 games) but highly productive on the ground (584 rushing yards, nine touchdowns). As a result, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network reports that Richardson is expected to declare for this spring’s draft. Pauline himself, along with his sources, agree that doing so would be premature though, and that remaining with the Gators for his senior year would be better for his development. Given Richardson’s high ceiling, Pauline predicts an NFL team could reach for him as early as the first round.