Caleb Williams

NFL Draft Grades: How Bears did with Caleb Williams, Rome Odunze picks in first round

Bears GM Ryan Poles loaded up on offense in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft. Here are our first impressions of the picks

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The Bears went all-in on offense in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft when they selected quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall, then wide receiver Rome Odunze with No. 9 overall pick. At first glance the two moves could set up the Bears offense for success for many years to come.

Williams was the consensus No. 1 overall pick and presumptive choice for the Bears for months, and for good reason.

What makes him so intriguing? Williams does just about everything well. He earns the most praise for his elusiveness in the backfield and creativity as he keeps his eyes downfield to hunt for big plays. His ability to take a would-be sack and turn it into a monster gain has drawn comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. Of course, comps like that are incredibly unfair, and Williams isn’t just a schoolyard gunslinger. He’s shown the ability to make anticipatory throws in the regular rhythm of the offense. If nothing materializes, he can also run and leave his pursuers in the dust.

Williams began his college career in 2021, at Oklahoma as Spencer Rattler’s backup. It didn’t take long for him to win the starting job as a freshman, however. On Oct. 9, partway through Oklahoma’s rivalry game against Texas, Williams got his chance and never looked back. Rattler struggled in the early goings, and the Sooners fell to a 28-7 deficit in the first quarter. So head coach Lincoln Riley put in Williams, and Williams took off– literally. He reeled off a 66-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-1 play to cut the lead in half. From there he threw two more touchdowns and led the Sooners to an incredible 55-48 comeback win.

Including the crazy comeback, the Sooners went 6-2 with Williams leading the offense for the rest of the season.

When Riley left Oklahoma for USC, Williams followed him. The two flourished in Los Angeles, and Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 2022. Williams and the Trojans had championship aspirations last season, but they were largely held back by one of the worst defenses in the nation. Still, Williams led USC to 41.8 points per game, which ranked third in the country.

If there’s one knock on Williams, it’s that he fumbled the ball at a higher rate in 2023 than he did at any other point in his career. At both Oklahoma and USC, however, Williams threw very few interceptions.

Over his entire three years in college, Williams played in 37 games. He completed 66.9% of his passes for 10,082 yards, 93 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. Williams also gained 966 yards on the ground with 27 rushing touchdowns. He won the Heisman and was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American in 2022.

By all accounts, Williams is just as impressive off the field as he is on the field. Throughout the entire pre-draft process, Williams has earned rave reviews from both his former coaches, current Bears staff and Bears players. In particular, the Bears mentioned that they were impressed with how Williams and his teammates interacted with each other during his Pro Day at USC, his incredible drive to be immortalized as a sports legend, and how he handled fame and fortune in Los Angeles.

There never seemed to be much doubt from the Bears that Williams was not only their guy, but worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick.

In Odunze, the Bears get one of the best playmakers in the class who is particularly adept at catching deep balls. Odunze is not just a one-trick pony however. He’s a well-rounded receiver who finds ways to win no matter what route he’s running.

Even though Odunze was the third wide receiver off the board in the draft, few pass catchers can match his 2023 output. Check out his resumé from last season among WRs with 100 targets: 1,639 yards (1st), 74 first downs (1st), 21 contested catches (1st), 75% contested catch rate (1st), 15.5 yard average depth of target (2nd), 13 TDs (t-4th), 3.2% drop rate (6th).

Neither Marvin Harrison Jr. nor Malik Nabers– the other WRs considered the cream of this class’s crop– match up to Odunze in that full group of categories.

Part of the reason Odunze succeeds as a deep threat is because of his great concentration and hands. No matter what’s going on around him, Odunze does a great job of focusing to make a play on the ball. Another reason he does well downfield is because he’s got great size, and he knows how to use it. At 6’3” and 212 pounds, he’s now the biggest target among the Bears’ top wide receivers.

Again, Odunze isn’t just a “go ball” guy. In fact, Reception Perception says he’s successful running every single route on the tree. That's uncommon.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Hey the Bears just traded for Keenan Allen to join DJ Moore. They’re set at wide receiver, so why use a premium draft pick to add another?” It’s true that having three dynamite wide receivers is a luxury in the NFL, but Odunze allows the Bears to have all their pass catchers play to their strengths, while future-proofing the position at the same time.

Moore is great in pretty much every part of the field, but he’s at his best when he catches the ball with space over the middle so that he can rack up yards after the catch. Allen thrives in the slot where he can use his size and incredible route running to create separation. Meanwhile, Odunze primarily worked on the outside at Washington. The Bears can keep Odunze on the outside in three-WR sets, which frees up Allen to move inside whenever needed. Further, if Odunze can challenge defenses vertically as he did in college, defenses will have to respect his big-play ability, which can in turn open up the intermediate areas of the field for Moore.

Picking Odunze also gives the Bears an opportunity to develop a wide receiver alongside Williams for the duration of his career. Allen is 32 years old and given his route running prowess, he could have several solid seasons still ahead. But he can’t be considered a long-term option for the Bears. Adding Odunze now gives him the opportunity to learn from both Allen and Moore, so that when the team needs him to move up the depth chart, he’ll be better prepared. In the short term, Odunze gives the Bears extra depth in case Moore or Allen get hurt this season. Without a premium rookie wide receiver, the Bears would have to rely on either Jones Jr., Scott, Dante Pettis or a lesser-heralded rookie to step into a WR2 role if either Moore or Allen suffer an injury. That could be a tall order for any of those guys. Odunze, however, would be a clear WR2 on many NFL teams and a WR1 for others.

Grading players before they’ve taken a snap in the NFL is an inherently unfair thing to do. Given what we know, and how Williams and Odunze can help the Bears, here's the immediate letter grade we’re handing out for the picks:

Grade: A+

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