For the first time in over 80 years, the Chicago Bears held the first overall pick of the NFL Draft and selected USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Williams’ arrival with the Bears wasn’t a surprise, as he has been the favorite to be taken first overall since he won the Heisman Award in 2022. Williams played a year at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to USC. He had a college career passing percentage of 66.9% for 9,782 yards with 120 total touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

“I didn’t know how I was going to react in the moment,” Williams said after he was picked. “I was trying to think through it in my head throughout the process, but nothing feels better than actually being in the moment, actually getting that call. You know, I don’t feel nervous; I don’t feel any of that. I was anxious and ready to go, just ready to get the call so I could walk out there on stage and just finally be back on a team is honestly what I’m excited for.”

Chicago previously drafted Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, but after three up-and-down years, he signed with Pittsburgh in the offseason. Before Fields, the Bears drafted UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Like Fields, Trubisky was in and out of the starting lineup for his four years with the Bears and was never able to find his footing as the team’s cemented starter. Williams, instead, comes to fix the Bears’ lingering quarterback issue after one of the most successful college careers in recent years. They were also the only team who visited with Williams before the draft.

“I felt good at that point,” Williams said. “Getting around the guys, the coaches, the executives. And so, I was around the facility mainly…Obviously, the facility is where I’m going to be at for the majority of my time, throughout weeks and days. I was around the guys in the facility, and I felt comfortable. I felt good. I was happy and ready to go.”

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In his freshman season with the Sooners, Williams battled with Spencer Rattler for the starting position. He eventually landed the role and finished the year with 27 touchdowns and four interceptions. Following his success and searching for an easier starting role, Williams transferred to USC, where he reunited with his old head coach, Lincoln Riley.

In 2022, Williams had one of the most dominating years in recent college football memory, leading the Trojans to an 11-3 record while throwing for 4,532 yards, 42 touchdowns and five interceptions. Though losing in the Cotton Bowl to Tulane, Williams walked away from the season, winning both the AP College Player of the Year and Heisman Awards. USC came into 2023 returning only a few starters and struggled heavily to protect Williams on the offensive line. Despite the team finishing with only a 7-5 record, he ended the year throwing for 3,333 yards, 30 touchdowns and five interceptions. Along with his 93 passing touchdowns in three years, Williams also finished with 27 rushing touchdowns for almost 1,000 rushing yards.

Despite being one of the oldest teams in the league, the Chicago Bears single-season throwing record is famously the lowest in the NFL, with Erik Kramer throwing for 3,838 yards in 1995. It was a feat expected to be broken by both Fields and Trubisky after they were brought in, but neither was able to get within 600 yards in their combined seven seasons with the team. However, Williams comes to the team known for his gunslinging ability and lack of fear of throwing the ball downfield. Many expect him to be the help needed for a team known for its strong defense but with desperate struggles to find a reliable quarterback to lead them to playoff success.

“When you talk to his teammates, they don’t like him; they love him,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles said about selecting Williams. “His leadership, how he brings people together, he’s intentional with his leadership. Same goes with the staff. I’m having a hard time finding a person that doesn’t like him or even love him and thinks that he can reach the highest limits. The feedback’s been good.”

To help Williams find playoff success and perhaps the team’s single-season passing record, the Bears drafted Washington receiver Rome Odunze with the ninth pick of the 2024 NFL Draft. Odunze was the third receiver off the board but finished the year as the leading receiver in college football with 1,640 yards and 13 touchdowns. He played four years for the Huskies, ending his career with 3,060 yards and 25 total touchdowns in 36 games.

 

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