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Schrock's final Bears 2024 mock draft: Caleb Williams and plan to ace rare opportunity

The Bears 2024 NFL Draft will be all about Caleb Williams and how to set him up for success

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The moment of truth finally arrives for general manager Ryan Poles and the Bears on Thursday night in the 2024 NFL Draft.

An unlikely string of events delivered the Bears the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's draft, and they'll cash in their golden ticket for USC star quarterback Caleb Williams once they go on the clock.

After Williams officially becomes a Bear, Chicago will have only three picks remaining in the 2024 draft.

But that's plenty to continue to build an infrastructure around Williams to help him develop and chase his goal of catching Tom Brady.

Thursday will mark the start of a new era of Bears football. Selecting Williams is potentially a franchise-altering moment, but there's more work to be done after Williams dons the Bears draft hat.

Here's one final, keep-it-simple mock draft for Poles and the Bears to ace a rare opportunity:

Round 1 (No. 1 overall): Caleb Williams, QB, USC

This has been a done deal for a while. Thursday merely makes it official.

Williams checked the final box for the Bears during his visit to Halas Hall. The Bears took Williams out to dinner with several members of the organization and veteran players.

Barring an unforeseen issue, Williams will be the pick at No. 1. He has been the desired choice all along and has done nothing to move the Bears off their belief that he's the quarterback they need to elevate the franchise to new heights.

The Bears love Wiliams' tape and have had productive meetings with the USC star at the NFL Scouting Combine, during a three-day excursion to Los Angeles for his pro day, and again at Williams' 30 visit.

During that trip to LA, the Bears got an even clearer picture of Williams, the person, and saw the ball come out of his hand live.

The tape and eye test matched. That was important, but the biggest boxes Williams' checked came during his dinner with the Bears' brass and his teammates two days before his pro day.

"When you talk to his teammates, they don't like him, they love him," Poles said of Williams at the league meetings. "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."

Accuracy, arm talent, vision, improvisational playmaking, touch, feel. You name it, Williams has it.

Over the past two seasons at USC, Williams has thrown 72 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions. The lack of talent on the 2023 Trojans forced Williams to try to play hero most of the time. The Bears have to be comfortable with Williams putting on the cape and making "no, no, no, yes" plays while also working to harness that unique playmaking ability.

Williams went 12-0 during his career when the Trojans allowed fewer than 34 points. He's very good within structure, but the lack of protection and poor defense forced him to play outside it for most of 2023. The 2022 film, when Williams had more talent around him, is a better indicator of what the Bears are getting at No. 1.

Even Williams' worst game as a college quarterback -- a three-interception affair in a loss to Notre Dame -- was viewed as a positive by those inside Halas Hall.

The Bears were at the game in South Bend and watched Notre Dame trot out a completely different defensive game plan than they had shown in any previous game that season. Even as Williams struggled against a new look, his body language remained good, and the Bears watched him carefully as he went to the sideline after each turnover and tried to rally his teammates.

Watching how Williams handled USC's 7-5 season was a vital touchpoint that showed the Bears how the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner handles the type of adversity that will surely come his way in the NFL.

“There have been quarterbacks in the past where they are undefeated for three years, they have a bunch of first round picks surrounding them at all times, so it’s a projection of how they handle discomfort, how they handle pressure," Poles told NBC Sports Chicago during a sit-down in Orlando. "So seeing some of these guys go through hard times is important because now you can actually talk about it and listen to them kind of go back and, ‘OK, what can I kind of do to get better? How could I handle certain situations better?’ There are so many learning lessons from that. It just makes you feel comfortable where, if you’re in a situation like that, the kid is going to come out on the other side because if not they can crumble easily.”

Williams will be the pick at No. 1 as long as his medicals check out during his visit to Halas Hall. There's no reason for him not to be.

"He's a franchise-changing prospect," one NFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago at the combine. "Guys like Caleb Williams don't often come around. They'd be foolish to pass on him. I don't know if he's generational, but he's definitely the best quarterback prospect to come out since [Andrew] Luck."

Round 1 (No. 9 overall): Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

For the last four months, trading down has been the expected move by the Bears at No. 9.

That's still in the cards, but from what I've gathered, there are a select few players the Bears would deem "stick and pick" selections.

For those inside Halas Hall, Odunze is atop that list. With the size, elite ball skills, physical run-after-the-catch ability, contested-catch prowess, and alignment versatility, Odunze is the ideal receiver to add to a receiving corps that already includes DJ Moore and Keenan Allen.

Allen is 32, in the final year of his contract, and has dealt with soft tissue injuries over the past few seasons. With no reliable depth behind Allen and Moore, the Bears need to add a high-ceiling No. 3 receiver to ensure Williams has the proper support system around him.

The Bears must also plan for life after Williams, whether in a few years or 2025.

Odunze checks all those boxes. Scouts have compared him to Davante Adams, Larry Fitzgerald, and Allen.

If the Bears don't take Odunze at No. 9, left tackle Joe Alt and defensive tackle Byron Murphy II appear to be the other two likely candidates if available. Alt is expected to be a top-7 pick.

If the Bears trade down, it will likely be for a non-Alt tackle, with Alabama's JC Latham and Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga the favored targets among tackles.

But I believe Odunze is who the Bears covet, and if the first eight picks fall their way, he very well could be available at No. 9.

Third round (No. 75 overall): Austin Booker, DE, Kansas

Opting not to trade down from No. 9 leaves the Bears with just two picks left in the draft, but there are still impact players to be found in the third and fourth rounds.

Booker is one.

A long, twitchy edge defender with explosive athleticism, Booker has all the traits the Bears covet in a defensive end.

While he needs to get bigger and stronger, Booker has a good rush plan with the length and speed to get on top of quarterbacks and running backs in a heartbeat.

He was compared to Las Vegas Raiders star Maxx Crosby during the pre-draft process. That's a lofty comparison, but Booker has the tools and talent to become an extremely productive edge rusher with the right coaching and development.

Fourth round (No. 122 overall): Hunter Nourzad, IOL, Penn State

The Bears round out a short but potentially franchise-altering draft with their long-term answer at center.

Nourzad is a powerful center with solid length, good technique, and the ability to play in any scheme.

The Bears traded for Ryan Bates this offseason and signed Coleman Shelton to a one-year contract, but neither figure to factor into their long-term plans at center. The Bears love Bates, but he's probably best utilized as a swing interior lineman once all the pieces are in place.

Nourzad will need some fine-tuning, but he can be a good depth piece in 2024 with plans to take over in 2025.

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