USC's Caleb Williams, potential No. 1 pick, enters NFL draft

ByPete Thamel ESPN logo
Monday, January 15, 2024

USC quarterback Caleb Williams will enter the 2024 NFL draft, he announced on social media Monday. The decision comes on the final day that underclassmen are allowed to declare.

Williams' decision formalizes his status as the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. His formal entry highlights the Chicago Bears' offseason conundrum of keeping Justin Fields or trading him to (presumably) build around Williams.

Williams' decision is not a huge surprise. It had been clear since USC's disappointing 2023 season ended that he'd wait until the final day he could make a decision, similar to how C.J. Stroud waited until the final day to decide last year.

The debate surrounding Williams in scouting circles isn't whether he's the No. 1 pick in the draft, but rather whether he is a once-a-decade type prospect or a generational one. Williams' use of varied arm angles, his improvisational wizardry and his ability to use his legs combine for an intriguing package.

Williams won the Heisman Trophy at USC in 2022 and put together another strong season in 2023, even as USC's record dipped from an 11-3 playoff contender to an 8-5 Pac-12 also-ran. Williams completed 68.6% of his passes for 3,633 yards in 12 games in 2023, compared to 66.6% for 4,537 yards in 14 games the previous year.

While Williams didn't replicate his Heisman magic and USC's team performance dipped -- much because of an apathetic defense -- he maintained consistent performance, and his status as the top player and quarterback in this class is secure.

ESPN polled a half-dozen scouts and executives Monday, and none could see a scenario other than Williams going No. 1. "I'd be shocked if he wasn't," one veteran scout said. Another added: "He's the best player at the most important position."

Williams finishes his career, including his freshman year at Oklahoma when he won the starting job from Spencer Rattler, with a total of 93 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and 10,082 yards in three seasons. He went 23-10 as a starter and appeared in 37 total games, per ESPN Stats & Information.

In his two seasons at USC, Williams also accounted for 21 rushing touchdowns. Perhaps no statistic sums up his pure talent and potential more than him executing 10 career games of being responsible for five or more touchdowns. Per ESPN Stats & Information, only Patrick Mahomes had more in the College Football Playoff era.

Williams and former North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye entered the season as the projected No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the draft. Both of their teams had uneven seasons, but neither quarterback did anything to change that status. LSU's Jayden Daniels thrust himself into the fringes of that conversation with a resplendent Heisman Trophy season, as no quarterback did more to increase his stock than Daniels in 2023. One year after Alabama's Bryce Young and Stroud went No. 1 and No. 2, the wholesale expectation is for quarterbacks to fly off in the top two spots again. If two quarterbacks go No. 1 and No. 2, it would mark the 10th time in NFL history that quarterbacks have gone at that position.

Williams gives the 2024 draft its definitive headliner, as the Bears' decision on the pick will loom over the league in the coming months.

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