Who is Caleb Williams? A beginner’s guide to Chicago Bears’ potential No. 1 pick

With Justin Fields out of the picture, focus turns toward top prospect Caleb Williams

USC quarterback Caleb Williams reacts during the first half against Washington, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Los Angeles.

The Justin Fields era in Chicago is over.

The Bears traded Fields over the weekend, sending him to the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the backup behind Russell Wilson. In exchange, the Bears will receive a 2025 sixth-round draft pick, which could become a fourth-round pick if Fields plays more than half the Steelers’ snaps.

But the move was less about the return and more about what it means for the Bears moving forward. The trade paves the way for Bears general manager Ryan Poles to potentially select USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall draft pick. At this point, the NFL world would be shocked if the Bears did anything different. Williams is widely considered the best prospect in the 2024 draft.

So who exactly is Williams and why is he such a highly regarded quarterback? Here’s a few things to know about the potential next Bears QB.

Williams’ entire life has been about this moment

Born Nov. 18, 2001, Williams grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. He began playing youth football as a running back and linebacker. The story goes – according to a feature in GQ last year – that Williams was so upset after one loss when he was 10 that he decided he needed to become a quarterback. Williams and his dad, Carl Williams, went all in on the goal of making Caleb the best quarterback they possibly could.

What followed next was a football-focused regimen with early morning workouts, QB tutoring and media training. Caleb attended Gonzaga College High School, a prestigious school just blocks from the U.S. Capitol building. When the commute proved too long, his parents even arranged for him to stay in an apartment near the school. He became the varsity starting quarterback at Gonzaga as a freshman and quickly landed on the national recruiting radar.

Williams dominated at the college level

Williams was the No. 2-ranked high school QB in the Class of 2021 (behind only Texas QB Quinn Ewers). He originally went to Oklahoma to play for coach Lincoln Riley, who turned Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray into Heisman Trophy winners. Williams began his freshman season behind Spencer Rattler on the depth chart but supplanted Rattler as the starter midway through the season.

Oklahoma went 11-2 that season, but Riley surprised everyone by taking the job at USC. Williams followed his coach to USC, where he went on to have a historic 2022 season. In his first season in Los Angeles, Williams threw for 4,537 yards with 42 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 380 yards and 10 touchdowns. Williams won the Heisman Trophy, but the Trojans missed out on the College Football Playoff after losing to Utah in the Pac-12 title game.

The 2023 season wasn’t as successful from a team perspective. USC’s defense imploded, and Williams lost star receiver Jordan Addison to the NFL. USC finished a disappointing 8-5, but Williams continued to carve up defenses. He finished the year with 3,633 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and five interceptions. He did not finish among the 10 Heisman Trophy finalists.

What makes Williams so good?

Here are a few NFL draft analysts on what makes Williams such a talented prospect.

From the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: “He is a natural thrower and delivers the ball with accuracy/velocity from a variety of platforms and arm angles. He can power the ball into tight windows while stationary or on the move. He can also finesse the ball when needed. He has lightning-quick hands in the RPO game. He’s a dynamic runner and makes defenders look silly in space.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “When you really study his tape, you’ll see he was still tremendous [in 2023]. He is an outstanding talent, a passer who can do rare things when he’s moving in and outside the pocket.”

Williams’ mobility and his ability to make throws from any angle are why people keep mentioning Patrick Mahomes when talking about Williams. It’s unfair to compare a rookie to the three-time Super Bowl champion, but in this one area of his game there’s no better example. ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky said Williams’ game has a “childlike” feel to it, like he’s playing backyard football.

Does Williams want to play for the Bears?

At the NFL Scouting Combine last month, Williams dispelled any notion that he might not want to play for the Bears. In most years, the team with the No. 1 pick is the worst team in football. This year is an anomaly. The Bears went 7-10 last season. They’ve spent the offseason adding weapons such as running back D’Andre Swift and receiver Keenan Allen.

“That’s pretty good for a team that has the first pick,” Williams said at the combine. “And they’ve got a good defense, they’ve got good players on offense, and it’s pretty exciting if you can go into a situation like that.”

Williams and his team, largely led by his dad, have done things differently. They’ve challenged the status quo in several ways. Williams doesn’t have an NFLPA-certified agent, but he has a team that includes a publicist and an adviser. Williams didn’t do medical evaluations at the combine. He preferred for only a few teams to have his medical information, rather than the entire league.

There have been rumblings for months about the Williams camp pushing for a stake in ownership of a team (the league preemptively made that impossible), or to see if they could somehow find a loophole in the rookie wage scale.

By all accounts, Carl Williams has stayed out of the football side of things. According to Sports Illustrated, Carl Williams was rarely around the USC football team outside of watching his son’s games. But he is certainly going to make sure his son gets every penny of what he’s worth.

If the Bears do select Caleb Williams, his rookie contract will be worth almost $40 million over four years. Could he force his way to another team? It has been done by No. 1 picks before (see John Elway and Eli Manning), but it’s incredibly rare.

In all likelihood, if the Bears want him, Caleb Williams will be a Chicago Bear.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.