Caleb Williams

Why Bears drafted Caleb Williams to be franchise QB with No. 1 overall pick

The Bears believe Caleb Williams has all the tools required to be the franchise quarterback they've long needed

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DETROIT -- There was no drama when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took the podium Thursday night at Hart Plaza in Detroit to open the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Chicago Bears have effectively been on the clock for three months, and there was never a question that they'd select USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall selection, handing the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner the keys to a charter franchise.

In a stacked quarterback class that includes Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and J.J. McCarty, Williams stood head and shoulders above the rest to the decision-makers inside Halas Hall.

Williams' playstyle can be characterized by his rare escapability and playmaking, but it's his arm talent, accuracy, processing, and ability to win from the pocket that makes the former so special.

Williams and his team went through a vanilla script during his pro day at USC to showcase his ability to play within structure and make throws from the pocket.

"I'm not here to 'wow' you, I'm here to win games," Williams told "The Pivot" about his decision to have his pro day be "boring" and not entail a lot of off-platform throws.

For the Bears, Williams represents their latest and best chance to break an 80-year quarterback curse.

It took several acts of NFL fate for the Bears to find themselves in position to draft Williams, and they believe he is uniquely wired to handle the pressure and expectations that will come with being a dubbed a franchise savior.

"When we got there, there was a lot of work that needed to be done," a former coach of Williams told NBC Sports Chicago. "Caleb, to his credit, really helped set the culture for what we wanted to build. He set the standard and held himself to the highest standard on the team. And it wasn’t easy. He's not used to losing and it was hard on him at times. You have to think, coming back the season after you win the Heisman, the pressure is immense. Then, you lose a game or two and it really ramps up for him to find a way to fix it. He never let it crack him. He was always the same guy every day. He embraced the pressure and responsibility of being that guy. When things get tough, he doesn’t blink. When he faces it on Sundays, he’ll embrace it and come out the other side. It’s who he is."

"He played at Oklahoma and USC," former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who coached Williams as an interim head coach in 2021, told NBC Sports Chicago. "That’s what I’ll say about that. There isn’t much more pressure than at those two programs. I don’t think anything is too big for him to handle."

Williams' stats speak for themselves.

In his last two seasons at USC, Williams threw for 8,170 yards, 72 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions while completing 67.5 percent of his passes.

Williams' 2023 season wasn't the Heisman encore many expected, but USC's porous offensive line and shoddy defense forced Williams to play hero ball during a disappointing 7-5 campaign.

However, Williams' struggles and how he handled them were instructive for Bears general manager Ryan Poles as they went through their pre-draft evaluation. In fact, Williams' struggles in less-than-ideal circumstances worked in his favor with those inside Halas Hall.

"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," Bears general manager Ryan Poles told NBC Sports Chicago at the annual NFL owner's meetings 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."

In Williams, the Bears see a franchise-changer—a transformational agent who can elevate those around him and deliver championships to Chicago.

Williams has been open about his desire to catch and pass Tom Brady by winning eight Super Bowl titles. Williams' camp reportedly reached out to the Bears early on in the draft process to make sure they were willing to put the necessary infrastructure around Williams to help him catch Brady.

The Bears responded by signing running back D'Andre Swift and tight end Gerald Everett before trading for veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen.

The Bears hired Poles to "break a cycle." The cycle of quarterback failure, of dysfunction, and of a willingness to accept mediocrity.

His goal has always been to raise the bar for the Bears' franchise. Should his talent match the hype, Williams should do the same with his genuine desire to surpass Brady in the only thing that matters -- trophies.

"I love it. I think we all should have huge goals," Poles said of Williams wanting to catch Brady. "We have huge goals here – win multiple championships. And that’s what we shoot for. You’re more intentional when you have these goals, you have to live a certain way, you have to practice a certain way, you have to go about your business a certain way in order to accomplish those. If everything else is in line underneath that, that gets me excited."

The Bears never flinched in their desire to make Williams their franchise quarterback. They traded quarterback Justin Fields after just one face-to-face meeting with Williams.

Poles brought in veterans, especially those who were vocal in their support of Fields, to have dinner with Williams at his 30 visit. The feedback was exactly what the Bears' decision-makers hoped, giving them no reservations about Williams' ability to win the locker room.

"Really intelligent guy," Poles said of what his veteran players told him of Williams. "He came across as a really good teammate. Easy to talk to, down to earth. You know, we've talked through this process about, you know, the whole Hollywood thing. He's all ball, wants to work, wants to get better, wants to win as a team. That's the No. 1 thing for him on top of being successful. So I think the biggest thing is does he fit with our culture and what we're trying to do, and all signs were that he does so that's a positive."

Williams checks every box for the Bears, from arm talent to mental makeup.

All that's left is for him to deliver on the immense promise his arrival will bring.

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