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Liam Coen on Will Levis: 'His Best Football is Still Ahead of Him'

Coen is returning to Lexington to run an offense that won't contain Will Levis, though he's still readily available for the future first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft.

After a breakout season in 2021, former Kentucky quarterback Will Levis' NFL draft stock shot through the roof. 

Big Blue Nation swooned over the Penn State transfer as he led the Wildcats to just their fourth-ever 10-win season, capped off with a feel-good victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Citrus Bowl. 

Levis threw for 2,826 yards and 24 touchdowns while also rushing for 376 yards and nine scores. In an instant, he became one of the top quarterbacks to step foot in Lexington in recent memory. He also saw his name stamped as a future professional. 

Levis beat out a pair of QBs — Lexington native Beau Allen and Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood — for the starting gig upon arriving in fall camp. Then-offensive coordinator Liam Coen immediately saw leadership traits and tantalizing skill from the 6-foot-3, 232-pounder.

"Will's work ethic and the way he came in and ran the show," Coen said about Levis after he was named starter. "His personality is one of which that guys naturally follow. I think that obviously you guys can see some of the arm strength talent and some of the things that he can do throwing the football ... I do think that right now he gives us the best chance to win."

The hype grew after seeing Levis operate in a pro-style offense under Coen, who's first season in Lexington was also in 2021. Coen came over from the Los Angeles Rams, where he was the quarterbacks coach. His playbook led to an undeniable connection between Levis and current New York Giants wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson, while showcasing the true talent that the QB possesses, both with his arm and legs. 

Upon announcing his return to UK for one more season, Levis' name was firmly planted as a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL draft. In a mock draft released by Sports Illustrated in August 2022, Kevin Hanson placed the QB as the seventh pick in the draft, landing in the hands of the Detroit Lions. Many others had the Madison, Conn. native sprinkled somewhere in the first handful of picks before the 2022 college football season even began. 

Then, the season came. Levis was now without Coen, who fled back to LA to become the Rams' OC. Coach Mark Stoops inserted another touted NFL QB coach in Rich Scangarello, but there wasn't the same connection. Not even close, really. 

Battling through a defective offensive line, nagging injuries and a new-yet-bland playbook, Levis managed to muster 2,406 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air in 11 games. The Cats floundered to a 7-5 record, limping into the postseason, where those same Hawkeyes would gain revenge in the Music City Bowl, blanking a Levis-less Kentucky unit, as he opted out of the game to prepare for the upcoming draft this April. 

Despite the shortcomings, Levis' draft stock stayed put. In some cases, it even went up. NFL scouts saw the supporting cast flanking the QB and weren't docking him for UK's bevy of miscues on offense, instead oohing and awing at his clear arm talent and gamesmanship. 

Longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. even labeled Levis as the top signal-caller in the draft in December, beating out Alabama star and Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, as well as Ohio State's C.J. Stroud:

"When I went through all his starts at Kentucky earlier this year, I was really impressed with his game. Levis has a rocket launcher for an arm and makes some "wow" throws. That has gotten the Penn State transfer into trouble at times, but it's clear watching him that he believes he can fit the ball into any window. My comparison is Matthew Stafford. Levis plays in a pro-style offense at Kentucky, and he's not going to need much time to adjust to the NFL. He can maneuver the pocket and throw on the run. Many of his turnovers came when he tried to use his arm to force throws, and he's going to be punished for mistakes at the next level. Levis is the real deal, though, and there are lots of fans of him in the NFL."

Levis' time at Kentucky is over, as is Scangarello's, as he was relieved of his duties after the regular season on Nov. 29. Just a month and-a-half later on Jan. 10, Coen was brought back to Lexington after a wearisome season with the Rams, failing to make the playoffs. 

His attention will turn to new QB and NC State transfer Devin Leary, but during his re-introductory press conference on Thursday, Coen had words on Levis' future as an NFL quarterback.

"His best football is still ahead of him," Coen said. "I truly believe that Will will have a long, successful NFL career. The guy's played through multiple different coordinators and multiple different years, obviously. Battled through a ton on injuries, as you mentioned, struggled to protect him a little bit last year." 

Kiper's comparison of Levis to Stafford is only backed up by Coen, as the coach has spoken of both players in the same light, applauding their professionalism and ability. 

"This guy is going to wow them, in every form and fashion," the OC continued about Levis. "I mean, he's extremely talented throwing the football, but you get him in a room, you get around him, you can feel his confidence, he'll be able to speak the language and he'll be able to come into a locker room and get along with the guys." 

With Coen's experience in the pros and with Levis, he'll surely be a contact that many NFL teams use when assessing the QB in the lead-up to the draft, which runs from April 27-29.

"Really excited about Will's future. Haven't had anybody reach out to me as of yet — I know that process is just kind of starting — but i'm really excited to see how this thing plays out for him over the next few months. Any help that I can be for him...definitely available." 

Kentucky's Early Signing Period tracker can be found here.

Kentucky's transfer portal tracker can be found here.

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