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Will Levis' Debut Proves Tennessee Titans Have Potential Franchise QB

Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis (8) celebrates on the field after defeating the Atlanta Falcons at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023.

The Tennessee Titans might have stumbled into a new era at quarterback.

With Ryan Tannehill out because of an ankle injury, rookie second-round pick Will Levis seized the opportunity to take the reins. Levis threw four touchdowns in a 28-23 win against the Atlanta Falcons

It was just the third time any quarterback in NFL history had thrown at least four touchdowns in their debut, matching Marcus Mariota's 2015 debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Fran Tarkenton's 1961 game against the Chicago Bears.

For a guy who came into the year as QB3 on the Titans’ roster, Levis looked like he had it all together. 

Levis' Pre-Draft Report

Let's rewind the clock to six months ago. 

In the spring, Levis was commonly seen as the fourth-best quarterback prospect behind Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. It's not like Levis was some scrub, though. Levis was expected to be a first-round pick along with the other three. 

It was a shock when he fell to the early second round. Levis just happened to be the odd man out in a really good class. 

Levis had a lot going for him as a prospect coming out of Kentucky. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, Levis looked the part. He could stand tall in the pocket and throw without fear when defenders were collapsing all around him. 

Levis could throw over a mountain and through a cruiseliner and do it with a snappy throwing motion. Best of all, Levis had experience in a pro-style offense under Liam Coen in 2021. He checked all of the traditional boxes you want from a quarterback prospect. 

Levis' blemish was inconsistency, especially during his senior season, which was mucked up by injuries, poor offensive line play and a play-caller change. Some of the jittery footwork and scattershot accuracy Levis showed in 2021 got worse in 2022. 

Those were concerning signs as is, let alone for a 23-year-old prospect with multiple years of starting experience. Scouts and analysts wanted to see Levis improve on his promising 2021 campaign, not wallow away in a bad offense and reinforce some of his worst habits. 

For that reason, the game with Levis was always about solving those inconsistencies or honing his strengths enough to let the good outweigh the bad. 

That uncertainty is why Levis fell to the second round and didn't threaten Tannehill for the starting job coming into the season. 

Levis vs. Falcons

But on Sunday, all of Levis' best traits shined. Levis looked more like the guy on the rise in 2021 than the guy who couldn't find a rhythm in 2022. 

The Titans game-planned around picking their spots to unleash Levis' arm. It was a calculated approach. Instead of taxing Levis with a high-volume dropback game that made him throw all over the field, the Titans spammed the Derrick Henry hand-off button and gave Levis a ton of easy completions with screens and simple boot-action throws. 

They kept the offense moving and made sure not to put Levis in many difficult situations. It was a perfectly normal, low-stress game plan for a rookie quarterback in his debut. 

To his credit, Levis helped himself with how he operated the offense. Levis had no problem handling some of the dual play calls in Tennessee's offense, "killing" the initial play call to check into runs and get the offense into a better play. 

He also kept the ball out of harm's way and didn't waste any time getting the ball out on most of the quick game concepts and boot-action plays the Titans were calling. 

You could tell Levis had some experience running an offense like this from his days in college. The down-to-down operation didn't overwhelm him at all. Levis isn't necessarily unique in that sense, even among rookies, but it's nice for a young player to do it. Malik Willis, for instance, never showed that degree of control in the offense in his limited action the last two seasons. 

When the Titans did call on Levis' arm, he did not disappoint. Three of Levis' four touchdowns were on throws at least 20 yards down the field. 

Two of them were on double moves to DeAndre Hopkins. The other was a throwback post route to the left side of the field after Levis booted out to his right. 

The throwback post throw is where you see Levis' arm come alive. Anyone can throw up some double-move go balls to Hopkins, but a 50-yard bomb from the right hash to the back left corner of the end zone? With two free rushers in Levis' face, so he can't step up? That's different. That's elite NFL arm talent. 

It's the kind of throw Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have made every other GM in the league want to chase at all costs. Or the type of throw that makes Sean McVay trade away Jared Goff, a competent quarterback, to get Matthew Stafford

Bottom line: everyone wants a guy who can make that throw. 

Don't Crown Him Yet

As true as that is, we can't get over our skis yet with Levis. There are still things Levis needs to work out — challenges yet to be faced. 

Even in this game, Levis' jittery footwork reared its head a few times. That leaves him vulnerable to being late and misfiring. Levis also wasn't asked to throw the intermediate area much. That's a challenge he will have to prove he can handle moving forward. 

In the same vein, Levis won’t have the luxury of only needing to hit a few throws down the field to put points on the board. Henry isn't going to be a super-efficient bulldozer every game, either. 

There will be games down the line where Levis needs to be a calm, consistent distributor — the exact kind of player we weren't sure he could be coming out of Kentucky. At least not right away. 

Levis has something to him, though. The arm talent is for real, and he is tough as nails. It won’t be perfect, but the Titans should let him take his lumps. 

Levis is a player who is only going to get better the more he plays and tests the limits of what he's capable of. For a 3-4 Titans team in desperate need of a spark, Levis can be just that. 

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.