Trio of former UK Wildcats find new home in NFL; Levis, Rodriguez, Valentine all picked in draft

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023


The wait is over for Will Levis.

The Kentucky quarterback, one of 17 college players invited to Kansas City for the opening round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, was picked in the second round as the 33rd overall pick by the Tennessee Titans, who traded up eight places Friday night to be able to get him. Levis was the first of three Kentucky players drafted by NFL teams, preceding running back Chris Rodriguez and defensive back Carrington Valentine.

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Three of the top four picks taken in the draft were quarterbacks. Former Alabama standout Bryce Young (Carolina) was the top pick, CJ Stroud (Ohio State) was chosen by Houston as the third selection and the Indianapolis Colts chose Florida’s Anthony Richardson as the fourth pick in the draft.

Speculation on an injury on Levis’ left toe that forced him to miss two games last season was an issue for some teams, which contributed to his slide down the draft ladder in the opening round.

The Titans made an aggressive move for their potential quarterback of the future by agreeing to a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, who acquired a second-round pick (No. 41 overall) and third-round pick (No. 72) in this year’s draft and a third-rounder in 2024.

The Titans received a third-round pick (No. 81) from the Cardinals to land Levis, who in two seasons at Kentucky threw for 5,233 yards and 43 touchdowns.

Ryan Tannehill, 35, is expected to be the starter for the Titans. Levis should be able to take a backup role and potentially take over as the starter in 2024 if the Titans void the remaining two years on Tannehill’s contract.

Levis will compete with Tennessee’s 2022 third-round pick, Malik Willis, to be Tannehill’s backup under new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly.

“I’m just ready to learn,” said Levis. “I just want to learn as much as I can from them and I want to be the best teammate that I can be going in there to compete, for sure. They’ve got a lot more experience than I have in the NFL and I just want to learn from them and just do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Levis led the Wildcats to a 10-3 record in his first season in 2021 after transferring from Penn State. UK defeated Iowa 20-17 in the Citrus Bowl. He didn’t compete in the Music City Bowl last December when the Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 21-0 in a bowl rematch.

Rodriguez was chosen by the Washington Commanders in the sixth round. A  5-foot-11, 204-pound native of McDonough, Georgia, Rodriguez finished his collegiate career ranked third on UK’s all-time rushing list with 3,644 yards and became just the fourth player in program history to eclipse the 3,000-yard rushing mark.

He also had 32 career rushing touchdowns, the second-most in school history, and his 35 career total touchdowns were the third-most in school history. He also averaged 6.2 career yards per carry, which ranks third in program history, and charted a school-best 20 100-yard games.

His 1,379 yards rushing in 2021 currently rank fifth on the UK’s single-season list.

Valentine was chosen in the seventh round by the Green Bay Packers with the 232nd overall pick.

Valentine, a native of Cincinnati, was a three-year letterwinner who played in 35 career games with 25 straight starting assignments for the Wildcats’ defense. He totaled 199 career tackles with 3.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, 16 pass breakups, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

During his two seasons as a starter, Kentucky compiled a 17-9 record.  The Wildcats went 10-3 in the 2021 season, including a win over Iowa in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2022.  UK went 7-6 in the 2022 season, capped with a loss to Iowa in the Transperfect Music City Bowl.