Caleb Williams intrigued by Bears, Commanders at top of draft

ByPete Thamel ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS -- Former USC quarterback Caleb Williams deeply admires Michael Jordan and Walter Payton, loves deep-dish pizza and told ESPN he would be "excited" if the Chicago Bears take him No. 1 overall in the 2024 NFL draft.

Entering the NFL combine, Williamsis the favorite to be the top pick in April. In his first public comments since declaring for the draft in January, Williams spoke in depth about the Bears, unveiled his combine plan and reflected on a journey to the NFL that is nearing a culmination.

"This is what I've been preparing for my whole life," Williams told ESPN by phone Tuesday. "Since I was 10 or 11, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At that age until now, it basically feels like your whole life.

"I'm excited. I'm ready to get back on a football team around my teammates and my brothers -- my new brothers now."

Where those new teammates are located remains one of the most intriguing questions surrounding the draft.

Williams spent much of the interview with ESPN discussing the Bears, whom he has long been linked to given they hold the No. 1 pick and he is the consensus betting favorite to be the draft's top selection.

"If I get drafted by the Bears, I'll be excited," he said. "If they trade the pick, and I get drafted by someone else, I'm just as excited. Speaking about Chicago, they have a talented team, a talented offense and defense. For anyone to be in that situation, I think they'd be excited."

Williams pushed back on any notion that he would request a trade or wants to play elsewhere.

"I'm not pushing any agenda," Williams said. "At the end of the day, the Bears have the last say. Regardless of how I feel, I'm not pushing an agenda of, 'Yeah, I want to go. Or no, I don't want to go.' I'm excited for whatever comes."

Williams said he is eager for his "first date" with Chicago, with a meeting planned in Indianapolis this week, and he stressed the importance of the first impression.

He said he was intrigued to hear about the Bears' plans and learn what the organization is like and the vision moving forward. Chicago hasn't won a playoff game since 2010 and has just two winning seasons since.

"Just the constant growth and change, that's important whether you are a quarterback or wide receiver or a general manager or an owner or an organization," Williams said of what he's looking for. "Just a healthy situation -- in the facility, with the players -- and just a place that really wants to win."

Williams said he has been to Chicago once, has heard good things about the rowdiness of Bears fans, and has gone down video rabbit holes studying both Jordan and Payton, two of the city's most iconic athletes.

"I'm 22. I didn't really get to see those players," Williams said. "As the saying goes, the legends live on. That's my goal of playing football -- it's not money, it's not fame ... it's to be immortal. I want to reach that sense of being a legend. Being at the table ... and having a rightful seat through hard work and energy and time I've put into this game that we all love.

"It's appealing to be in a city like that. With legends that you've looked up to ... reach for the standard they set and try to do anything to get there."

Williams' next most speculated destination is the Washington Commanders, who have the No. 2 pick. That union would mark a return home for Williams, who grew up in the area and attended Gonzaga College High School in Washington.

"It'd be really cool because it's so familiar," he said. "There's a time and place for everything. My job and my hobby is being at the facility or on the field or watching film. Or relaxing and prepping for the next day or game.

"My main goal and focus ... is to go win games and stay focused on keeping the main goal the main goal."

Williams said he is not going to work out at the combine but will throw at USC's pro day on March 20. He is also not planning to do medical testing at the combine but will do that in his individual visits with teams.

He is not planning to sign with an NFL agent, saying he has a "whole team" of attorneys and advisers to handle contracts and endorsements.

"Everyone thinks I'm a one-man team," Williams said, referencing the symphony of work that makes an F1 team go. "That's just not the case."

He is planning to meet with the media in Indianapolis.

"I want everyone to hear me and get a feel for who I am ... so they're not throwing things out there that are false or that isn't coming from me," Williams said.

What should they expect to hear?

"Being able to see who I am as a person and my heart and love for football and winning games," Williams said. "That's what I think they'll get from it, and my intensity about being on a team and going out there and kicking ass with my new brothers. That's what I'm excited about. That's who I am."

Williams finished his three-year college career -- one season at Oklahoma and two at USC -- with 93 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. He threw for 10,082 yards, ran for 966 more and compiled 27 rushing touchdowns.

Since USC's season ended, Williams said he worked out in Los Angeles to stay in shape and, early on, did a lot of mental work to prepare for the NFL. (He also took a quick vacation to Tokyo, where he enjoyed food that was "out of this world," highlighted by Wagyu steak. "I'm not even a red meat kind of guy," he said.)

The early mental work included studying defenses, fronts, blitzes, coverages and protections and communicating plays in the huddle. Williams said in college he rarely huddled but pointed out he was in charge of communicating the play, as opposed to schools that look to the sideline for plays.

More recently, he has been working out in Florida with noted quarterback trainer Will Hewlett, who trains Brock Purdy and others, and performance coach Tom Gormely. Other players Williams is working out with include Mason Rudolph, Emory Jones and Nate Peterman.

Asked specifically what he was focusing on in workouts, Williams said basically everything.

"We're shooting for the stars and trying to nitpick the small things," he said. "They become big things in a long season. There's nothing really that we're not working on. ... I am a perfectionist, and I want to be perfect. In reality you can't."

When asked whether he had more nerves or excitement about the upcoming weeks, Williams again mentioned how much he was looking forward to having a team to build a rapport with.

"It's not anxiousness or anything like that," he said. "I can't wait to say my first cadence. Regardless of how good or bad, with me switching up the playcall, messing up or not messing it up in practice. Whatever the case may be. I can't wait for that moment, that minicamp moment."

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