Caleb Williams

Despite playoff expectations, Caleb Williams won't be Bear facing most pressure in 2024

The Bears should have playoff-or-bust expectations in 2024

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Barring a last-minute stunner, the Bears will select USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and inject a heavy dose of NOS into a rebuild that is entering a new phase.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles was disciplined and deliberate in free agency. The Bears got better and added depth without overspending, and Poles cemented the Bears as an offseason winner with his trade for wide receiver Keenan Allen.

Poles cleared the way for Williams to land when he traded quarterback Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round draft pick.

Many in league circles view Williams as a "generational" talent. He will enter the NFL with arguably the best supporting cast a No. 1 overall pick has had in his rookie season in the modern era.

All that adds up to massive expectations this fall. Not the faux expectations the still rebuilding 2023 Bears entered last season with before an 0-4 start.

No, the 2024 Bears should enter the 2024 season with playoff-or-bust expectations. They went 7-10 last season and blew three games in which they owned a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. They did that despite starting 0-4 and having Fields miss four games in the middle of the season.

Given their last-place schedule and the assumed upgrades at quarterback, offensive coordinator, running back, and wide receiver, 10 wins should be attainable.

A lot of that pressure will fall on Williams. That comes with being the No. 1 pick who has been hyped for three seasons and drawn comparisons to Patrick Mahomes.

There will be massive expectations for Williams. Some who wanted Fields to stay will hoist unfair rookie-year benchmarks on him. Those should be tempered. There will be rookie bumps. There will be multi-interception games and probably some head-scratching mistakes. But there will also be an excessive amount of "wow" throws and a number of 300-yard passing games.

Williams should be expected to throw for between 3,600 and 4,000 yards if healthy. Last season, C.J. Stroud threw for over 4,000 yards while leading the Texans to the playoffs. He had a few stinkers but was overall tremendous. The same should expected of Williams. He won't be perfect, but he'll dazzle.

The Bears are hitting the quarterback lottery in drafting Williams. He'll have a long runway to find success in Chicago. Even if his rookie year underwhelms (choose your own definition), his and the Bears' future will remain bright.

While there will be immediate pressure on Williams, he's far from the one who will face the most heat this fall.

That distinction belongs to head coach Matt Eberflus.

Eberflus improved as a head coach in 2023. The defense's rise after he took over as play-caller deserves praise. Eberflus steadied the Bears through a storm of adversity, most of which was of his own making.

Eberflus earned a third season and a chance to revamp his offensive staff. He did so by hiring Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator. A host of other inspiring hires followed.

The roster is better. The quarterback will be better. The staff is better.

During his end-of-season press conference, Poles said he wouldn't lower his win-loss standards just because the Bears have a rookie quarterback—if that's the direction the franchise planned to take.

That puts the microscope squarely on Eberflus, not Williams, come fall.

If the Bears are relatively healthy this season, the playoffs should be the expectation. The defense is set on two levels, and while the defensive line needs some work, Montez Sweat proved to be a game-changer. The Bears have two elite receivers in DJ Moore and Allen, added a capable do-it-all back in Swift, and have an improving offensive line.

Add in Williams and whatever the Bears decide to do with the No. 9 overall pick, and the roster Poles has built will be playoff-ready.

It will be on Eberflus and his staff to ensure the fast-improving roster Poles has built reaches its potential in 2024 and takes the necessary first step toward the extended window of contention the Bears believe is in their future with Williams at the helm.

If they fall short of the playoffs or crater, Poles will have to decide if he wants to continue to tie himself to Eberflus long-term or if a change is needed.

Expectations will be high for the 2024 Bears. That's something a retooled roster with blue-chip players at wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker, defensive end, and soon-to-be quarterback should relish.

After a dormant period that included a teardown and a rebuild, the Bears are ready to begin their ascent to the top of the NFL.

Few excuses will make it acceptable for Eberflus and Co. to fall short of their benchmark this fall.

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