As the underwear Olympics portion of the pre-Draft process approaches, it’s not crazy to think that Will Levis and Anthony Richardson will continue to watch their respective stocks rise.

If you can find a mock draft of them not coming off the board in the first round, good on you. ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have both in the top 10, as does CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson.’s Chad Reuter has them in the top 15, as does The Athletic’s Dane Brugler. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Levis at No. 7 and Richardson at No. 22 while PFF’s Mike Renner has them at No. 2 and No. 18, which I guess puts them in the minority to have Levis or Richardson outside of the top 15.

But you get what I’m saying. At this point, it’d be considered a surprise in NFL Draft circles if either former SEC quarterback went outside of the first round.

Of course, the irony is that there are plenty of skeptics who would be surprised if either lived up to that billing.

Levis and Richardson are being lumped together in NFL Draft conversations, not just because they both played in the SEC East. Both are getting Round 1 buzz despite the fact that they closed their college careers with letdown seasons. They didn’t come close to getting to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony like Bryce Young or CJ Stroud, both of whom are also expected to be early-Round 1 picks. In 2022, Levis and Richardson weren’t even in serious consideration for all-conference selections at season’s end.

So what does that mean as we head into the high-scrutiny portion of the pre-Draft cycle wherein their freakish tools should, in theory, shine in this setting? It can mean many things.

One thing it definitely means? History is working against them.

Michael Calabrese brought up an interesting point a month ago:

That bears repeating. In the past 20 years, Ryan Tannehill is the only first-round quarterback who didn’t dominate at the Power 5 level who still went on to be a solid starting QB in the NFL. I’d also argue that Tannehill was relatively disappointing until he left the Dolphins, AKA the team that drafted him.

What about Josh Allen, you ask? Ah, you missed the “Power 5” caveat.

Seriously. Go back in the 21st century and do the exercise like I did. Try to find someone who was considered average as a Power 5 quarterback who then got drafted in the first round and became a solid NFL starter. The only other possible example I found was Daniel Jones, who is coming off the best season of his career in Year 4, which came on the heels of the Giants declining his 5th-year option.

Outside of Jones, maybe Tommy Maddox? Yeah, like the guy who was out of the league 5 years after he was a first-round pick in 1992 and needed an XFL revival to get a second chance in the NFL.

It’s extremely difficult to find any true comps for the path that Levis and Richardson are attempting to embark on. Even someone like Jeff George was considered a polarizing prospect in the 1990 NFL Draft, but he at least was a first-team All-Big Ten selection who won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation’s top passer in his pre-draft season. We probably can’t even include George for this exercise.

Here are all the former Power 5 quarterbacks since 1990 who were picked in Round 1 after never earning a postseason first-team all-conference selection:

  • Tommy Maddox, No. 25 overall in 1992
  • Josh Freeman, No. 17 overall in 2009
  • Jake Locker, No. 8 overall in 2011
  • Blaine Gabbert, No. 10 overall in 2011
  • Christian Ponder, No. 12 overall in 2011
  • Ryan Tannehill, No. 8 overall in 2012
  • Daniel Jones, No. 6 overall in 2019

(Why the boom in dice rolls on raw quarterbacks in 2011? Because that was the first year of the rookie wage scale in the NFL, meaning that you didn’t have to commit nearly as much money to top draft picks as you previously did.)

Of that group, Tannehill is the only one who got a multi-year extension from the team that drafted him. And again, they still traded him after Year 7 in a deal with the Titans that involved swapping some mid/late-round picks.

I know what you might be thinking — why is the Power 5 caveat important? Is it just so I can conveniently leave out guys like the aforementioned Allen?

The Power 5 caveat is significant because if a quarterback is playing at a Power 5 school, in theory, he has help. He’s throwing to mostly guys who at least have a chance to play professionally. If you’re good enough to start at a Power 5 school but not good enough to succeed there, usually that’s enough of a knock on a quarterback to drop them outside of Round 1.

One could combat that point for Levis by saying that while he regressed in his pre-draft season, Kentucky’s offensive line was also among the worst in Power 5. For Richardson, one could say that he lacked receivers who could get separation or win 50-50 battles.

Still, though.

If Levis and Richardson both go in Round 1, it’ll be NFL front offices betting on tools. You’ll hear the justification for such a pick by pointing to Allen’s somewhat lackluster college career. And in defense of the NFL front offices who do believe Levis and Richardson are first-round guys, look at the AFC right now. On a yearly basis for the next decade in the AFC, you’re probably going to have to get through at least 2 of these quarterbacks to make it to a Super Bowl:

  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Josh Allen
  • Joe Burrow
  • Lamar Jackson (if he stays in Baltimore)
  • Justin Herbert

Just like how AFC teams without Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger won just 1 AFC title from 2003-18, we’re entering arguably an even more challenging time to break through in the conference. There’s a case one could make that playing it “safe” at quarterback or hoping to get extremely lucky with a Russell Wilson/Dak Prescott mid-round pick who pops might actually be a quicker way out of town for an NFL front office than shooting for the stars by drafting someone like Richardson or Levis.

But man, Levis and Richardson are going to continue to generate plenty of pre-draft opinions. Their physical traits could turn some skeptics into believers in the coming weeks, bu let’s be honest: The vast majority of people with an opinion on them aren’t budging, either way. Shoot, they might not have budged off that opinion after watching them face off in a September game in which 3 offensive touchdowns were scored. It probably didn’t help their cases that they completed a combined 46% of their passes and they had a combined -8 rushing yards on the night.

Five months later, Levis and Richardson did what few expected. That is, deliver disappointing seasons and still be considered first-round locks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Now would be as good a time as ever for both to start bucking trends.