I’ve spent the past 2 months bracing for something that’s entirely outside of my control.

There are way-too-early 2024 mock drafts that’ll feature Joe Milton.

They’ll probably make no mention of the fact that he lost the starting job at 2 different programs. They’ll instead reference “traits” and his bazooka for a right arm. Maybe they’ll mention the Clemson game, wherein he looked plenty capable of leading the high-octane Josh Heupel offense.

Then again, referencing 1 game for a big, strong-armed quarterback is somewhat common for these way-too-early mock drafts. Mitch Leidner got that kind of love back in 2016. Even Will Levis felt like someone who was getting too much of that type of love when he showed up in the way-too-early mock drafts at this time last year (little did we know that he wouldn’t end up being a Round 1 guy).

Like Levis and Anthony Richardson, get ready for that same divide on Milton. As in the “this guy is a physical specimen built out of a lab to play football” awe vs. the “this guy isn’t even good at football yet” wonder. The former will belong to the NFL crowd, the latter will belong to the college crowd.

Oops. Sorry. Exclude Tennessee fans there in the college crowd who’ll be baffled by the Milton love.

The love stems from all of his — brace for it — traits. Even Uncle Rico would admit that Milton throws a football further than he can. Hendon Hooker told me Milton once threw the ball from the highway to their apartment complex, which is more than 80 yards. Jalin Hyatt confirmed to me that Milton can sling it somewhere between 80-90 yards. “It’s too easy for him in terms of how far he can throw it.”

Yep. The same crowd that freaked out about Levis hitting the crossbar from his knees from 50 yards and Richardson hitting the ceiling with a throw at Florida’s Pro Day will love them some Milton.

Once upon a time, it was the Tennessee coaching staff that was in awe of Milton upon his Rocky Top arrival before the 2021 season.

“At that point, Joe Milton was the best practice quarterback that any of us had ever seen,” former Tennessee offensive coordinator and current USF coach Alex Golesh told SDS. “In a red jersey where nobody can touch ya, the prettiest deep ball I have ever seen. Ever. And I have been around some NFL quarterbacks. I had never seen anything like it. None of us had … you saw Joe throw the ball and you saw (Heupel’s) eyes light up, and he’s not one to give a ton of people, especially quarterbacks, credit. It was like, ‘Woah.’

“What you can’t tell in practice is the other stuff.”

The other stuff is irrelevant to the potential-focused NFL Draft crowd. They don’t want to hear about Richardson finishing 11th in the SEC in quarterback rating, nor do they care that Levis went 11-for-23 for 109 yards in a loss to a Vanderbilt team in search of its first SEC win of the 2020s.

It’s not that I’m writing off Milton. For all I know, I’ll be leading the bandwagon in 5-6 months and I’ll praise his improvement with every chance I get. Golesh is already there.

“He’s an elite-level quarterback now. He wasn’t a year and a half ago,” Golesh said. “But he is now because he learned his deficiencies, he learned his strengths, he learned how to play within the system and he’s learned how to play within himself … 2 years ago, and I bet he would tell you the same, he thought he had to go win the game. He doesn’t. He’s gotta go manage the game, take care of the football.”

Golesh has a different perspective on that. He’s seen the improvement with Milton in games, but again, that sample size was really just 2 games.

It’s just odd we live in a world in which Milton’s entire non-Clemson/Vandy career could be ignored — he completed 56% of his passes for 7 yards per attempt in his 7 career starts before that — and he could be getting first-round love for having a generational arm, despite the fact that he’s had 2 separate chances to be the guy and he lost that opportunity.

The question is whether that’ll happen for a third time.

The difference between Milton compared to Richardson and Levis is the backup situation. Backing up Milton will be 5-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava, AKA the guy who is as highly regarded as any Tennessee recruit since Peyton Manning. Richardson and Levis had nobody behind them who could put pressure on them to even make their coaches think about turning to an alternative option amidst one of their dud performances. Milton won’t have that luxury.

Richardson and Levis also played for programs that were out of the division race by mid-October. If Tennessee picks up where it left off, that won’t be the case. There could be pressure on Heupel to make a switch if Milton struggles. There could also be an increased sense of urgency to get Iamaleava reps if the Vols are sitting there at 6-3, and that could also work against Milton.

Of course, maybe Milton’s comps to Richardson and Levis will end once the season starts. Perhaps Milton puts it all together and gets everyone on the same page about his potential. His predecessor, Hendon Hooker, clicked late in his career at Tennessee. Can his roommate do the same thing?

Whatever happens next for Milton, plenty of college and NFL eyeballs will be all over him. If Richardson and Levis taught us anything, it’s that poor pre-draft performance doesn’t exactly turn next-level people off.

Traits speak louder than actions.