For Bears and Caleb Williams, NFL draft week feels like a coronation

Bears will select first overall during Thursday night’s first round

USC quarterback Caleb Williams speaks during a press conference at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Friday, March 1, 2024.

Seven years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs went into NFL draft night holding the No. 27 overall pick. As Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes fell down the draft board, the Chiefs made a major move.

The Buffalo Bills, who had just begun a new era under general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott, were not yet ready to take a swing at quarterback. Sitting at No. 10, they looked for a trade-back partner.

The Chiefs were more than willing to pay the price to move up. Kansas City traded the 27th pick, the 91st pick and a 2018 first-round pick in order to move up for Mahomes.

The man who made the call into the league was Chiefs director of college scouting Ryan Poles. Others in the room included Chiefs GM Brett Veach, head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.

It’s not an understatement to say the decision to trade up for Mahomes changed the course of NFL history. It was the beginning of an era in Kansas City that so far has produced three championships over the past five seasons, plus one additional Super Bowl appearance.

Seven years later, Poles will be the man making the final decision on what the Bears hope is a new era in Chicago. On Thursday night, the Bears are almost certain to take USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft.

Poles has spent his entire professional life preparing for inflection points like these.

“I’m really fortunate to see multiple phases and different types of process put in place with bringing a quarterback in from a trade to drafting,” Poles said. “Again, there’s a process that we have learned in terms of tape watching and getting to know guys and bringing them in and spending time with them and feeling comfortable with that setup. So I can definitely tap into that experience.”

Over the past several weeks and months, the Bears spent time with Williams at the NFL Scouting Combine and around Williams’ pro day last month. They hosted Williams for an in-person visit at Halas Hall and took him out to dinner with several of his potential new teammates.

Williams long has been the favorite to become the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft. That’s been the conversation ever since his Heisman Trophy season at USC in 2022. But this evaluation was about much more than simply X’s and O’s and arm strength.

This is a major investment in both the player and the person. All signs point toward the Bears being pleased with what they have learned about Williams throughout the draft process.

“I don’t play for fame, I don’t play for money,” Williams said. “I don’t play for jewels or things like that. It’s to go out there, win as many games as possible, be the best that I can [be]. My plan is if I can be my best and play as many games as possible at my best, I think I can reach certain points like that.”

I don’t play for fame, I don’t play for money. I don’t play for jewels or things like that. It’s to go out there, win as many games as possible.”

—  Caleb Williams, USC quarterback

The Bears have to get this right. Poles’ job probably depends on it. With a rookie contract, Williams will be committed to the Bears for at least the next four years, plus the team will have an option year in 2028. But if all goes well on the field, both sides are hoping this could be a partnership that will last well beyond 2028.

There has been plenty of outside noise about Williams painting his fingernails, his pink phone cases and him crying in his mother’s arms, but there have been no legitimate red flags that would indicate off-the-field concerns. And there has always been a lot to like on the tape.

At the combine, Poles credited co-director of player personnel Jeff King with painting the picture of two types of quarterbacks: the artists and the surgeons. Mahomes is an artist. He can make wild throws in unusual situations. Tom Brady was a surgeon. It wasn’t fancy, but he carved up defenses with precision.

Williams believes he can be both.

“When it’s time to be surgical, it’s time to be surgical,” Williams said. “There’s been many games where it gets late in the game and I’ve ran or scrambled and threw a crazy pass, that’s been the artist, magician. Then there’s been times where, even when I hurt my hamstring and I couldn’t run, I sat in the pocket the whole time the rest of the game and delivered the ball.”

Bears fans will have plenty of time to fall in love with Williams the quarterback. All of the drama and quarterback questions in Chicago will be set aside Thursday night. The Justin Fields trade is in the past now. Bears fans who weren’t on board before are going to have to get on board.

This feels like a coronation, and there’s little doubt that the NFL will treat it that way Thursday night. Commissioner Roger Goodell probably will take the full 10 minutes to announce the Bears’ pick, despite everyone on the planet knowing who the pick will be.

Thursday will be about optimism, and a large portion of Bears fans will likely be feeling that optimism. This will be only the third time the Bears have used the No. 1 overall draft pick, and if they take a quarterback it will be the first time the organization has drafted a QB at No. 1 overall (the previous two, in the 1940s, were running backs).

Bears fans are likely to purchase Williams’ jersey in droves. Assuming the Bears draft him, Williams will make his first public appearances at Halas Hall on Friday. Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus finally will be able to publicly say what they liked about Williams throughout this process and why this is the quarterback for the Bears.

And Williams finally will hold up a Bears’ jersey with his name on it.

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.