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2024 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Caleb Williams

The relatively new Lincoln Riley tree of quarterbacks has produced some elite college football talent. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts had incredible runs with Riley once he became Bob Stoops' offensive coordinator in 2015, assisting the former two to Heisman trophy campaigns and bringing the latter very close. As pros, Hurts has been great, Murray has been mostly good despite some lowlights and an ACL injury, and Mayfield hasn't lived up to his No. 1 pick billing, despite some good seasons in 2018 and 2020, plus some flashes this year in Tampa.


Enter Caleb Williams, a consensus top 20 recruit in the nation and No. 1 duel threat quarterback in the high school class of 2021, hailing out of Gonzaga College High School in D.C. Not starting right away once he got to Norman, Oklahoma, Riley gave Williams his first game action in that year's Red River Showdown in relief of then-starter Spencer Rattler late in the second quarter. Down 35-17 when he went in, Williams led the Sooners to a dramatic 55-48 win, and the rest, as they say, was history.


Sticking with Riley, Williams officially jumped from Oklahoma to USC on the first day of February 2022. It would be in the shadow of Hollywood where Williams would come into his own, securing the Heisman trophy as a True Sophmore over names like Max Duggan, C.J. Stroud, and Hendon Hooker. It was also during that season when talk of Williams being a sure-fire lock for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2024 draft started to heat up, setting up high expectations for his Junior season in 2023.


Although USC's defense bears most of the blame for the team's struggles this season, Williams certainly didn't have the year many were anticipating, having rough outings against the likes of Notre Dame and Utah. Although the consensus by the majority is that Williams is this draft class' top option under center, it's now a real conversation between him and UNC's Drake Maye and has been for well over a month now. Now, with Williams officially bowing out of the Holliday Bowl, the next time we see him on a field in official game action will likely be as an NFL player.


So, is Williams worth all the hype leading into the 2023 College campaign? Is he the top option at quarterback in his draft class? And if so, is he a prospect on the level of guys like Trevor Lawrence and Andrew Luck? Let's find out right now.


Player Bio

Name: Caleb Williams Jersey: No. 13 Position: Quarterback School: USC by way of Oklahoma Class: Junior Height: 6'1" Weight: 215 lbs Games Watched: vs. TCU (2021 w/Oklahoma), vs. Washington State and Arizona (2022), vs. Notre Dame, Washington, Utah (2023)


Player Breakdown

Arm Talent (14.75/15)

The first of the six games listed (vs. TCU in 2021) was when Williams was still only 18 years old, and some of the throws he was making that night were nothing short of remarkable, which would be a recurring theme for the remaining five outings. With the flick of a wrist, he can sling it upwards of 50 yards downfield on a rope with plus accuracy. The ball comes out with electric velocity, and he can hit quick windows if needed/when asked. Never mind the kind of throws he can make off-platform as well. Williams isn't perfect in any one area (no one is), but this is one of two areas where he's as good as you could hope at this stage of his development at the position.


Accuracy (14/15)

Although measuring accuracy goes beyond the completion percentage numbers (even though a career 66.6 career completion percentage is not too shabby), Williams consistently displayed plus accuracy in these six outings. He'll have the occasional sail, underthrow, or low ball placement, but on the whole, he gives his pass catchers a catchable ball more often than not. Another slight critique is that Williams could be a tad better at working deep-ish down the sidelines and not leading guys out of bounds, but I can understand if that feels a bit nit-picky.


Decision Making (13/15)

The area where Williams loses the most points is a concern for the time being, but it's stuff that he's shown progression in, and hopefully, won't be glaring issues by the time he's in year two or three. Williams was guilty of trying to be Superman on more than a few occasions, and the Notre Dame game is the perfect example of the drawbacks. Here's each of the three interceptions he threw that evening.

The first play here is essentially over the moment the right tackle gets beat, but Williams just needed to eat the sack. Back peddling into a throw is usually not going to work out, and sure enough, it wasn't there. Play two, you can see that the check-down off to Williams' left is there, but he opts to try and make a hero ball throw under pressure, which also gets tipped at the line. Play three is more of the same, except he had nothing open. and should have dumped this one into the seats. The odd thing is that plays like those (in abundance) only came up in the first half of this game. There were things Williams could have done better, for sure, but the first half of the Notre Dame game vs. everything else feels like you're watching two different quarterbacks. It's that jarring and bad.


Another example from that game was this cross-body check-down throw when he had a mile of room to scramble for a big gain early on.

Outside of the Notre Dame game, there are times when Williams tried to hit the edge on scramble drills to cut upfield and failed, leading to some unneeded chunk-yard losses, but that was seemingly just a 2022 games thing (vs. Washington State specifically). I can't recall any significant losses on scramble drills/designed runs in the three 2023 games. Ultimately, Williams' biggest flaw relating to decision-making, is that he can do a ton of crazy things as a quarterback, but he still needs to figure out that fine line of when/how not to make a bad play an even worse play. The good news is this is fixable, as is the fact he's also shown the ability to convert some hero-ball level plays, but certainly something he needs to work on/reign in between now and rookie mini-camp.


Progressions (8.75/10)

A good chunk of what Lincoln Riley asked of Williams involved a lot of designed short-read stuff on early downs, and then RPOs, etc, but when Williams was asked to work through his options, he showed a good enough ability to work through reads. I'd have liked to have seen more of it, and that explains the score, but that's not entirely on him.


Pocket Awareness (8.5/10)

A handful of plays popped up where Williams didn't sense incoming pressure, leading to sacks and/or fumbles, but having the experience in some dirty pockets as he does, Williams is in a good spot after his Junior season. You saw a guy play with a good (not great) internal clock, display the ability to step up in the pocket when things could collapse on the edges, and of course, have the in and out of pocket mobility to get himself out of trouble. Williams also showed that he doesn't get too rattled when things are breaking down. Check out these two rockets against Notre Dame and Washington from earlier this year of what he can do at his best.

Also, I thought Williams did very well working with some sub-optimal conditions in front of him in the five USC games. The three 2023 games are where some brutal pass protection plays pop up too frequently. I actually think having experience working with some sub-optimal offensive line play (sub-optimal supporting cast, really) is far from a bad thing if we're being honest. There's no guarantee he has pristine protection from the jump in the NFL, and he already has a good enough understanding of what's happening around him. Backside pressure recognition/sense would be the biggest thing he needs to pick up on, but it's not the only thing either. Still, it's nowhere near a gigantic red flag.


Anticipation/Touch (9/10)

Simply with his raw arm talent, Williams can zip passes into tight windows, shred a variety of defensive looks, and make tough throws in any part of the field. The downfield ball placement specifically is horrifying. More or less, Williams can anticipate what's being thrown at his pass catchers coverage-wise, and work accordingly.


Out of Structure (10/10)

I knew about the kind of out-of-structure stuff Williams was capable of going into this process, but man on man is the stuff he can do unreal. The blend of mobility, athleticism, and arm talent allows him to do some downright scary things at the quarterback position. This wasn't one of the games we watched but look at this against Nevada. On top of Williams just doing ludicrous work in the pocket before getting outside, watch where the eventual touchdown scorer is initially lined up.

Like that's special, I don't know what else to tell you. And out-of-structure plays that are equally as crazy happened in just about every game. Williams could do this against Washington, Notre Dame, Nevada again, and everywhere else. I want to stress that the perfect score doesn't mean he's perfect as an out-of-structure guy, but he's as good as it gets as far as being a prospect goes.


A common take I have seen regarding the USC product, however, is that he relies too much on the ability to create out-of-structure. While there certainly is some truth to that, it's a lie to say it's because he's a bad in-structure quarterback. Additionally, there were other reasons he went to the well when he did (breakdowns in protection, the JARRING lack of separation his receivers were getting against Notre Dame, among other reasons). Could Caleb reign things in a big and commit to being a bit more of an in-structure guy? Absolutely, but if the fastball can hit triple digits on the gun, you can live with that as long as it isn't a detriment.


Mobility (9.5/10)

The only thing holding this score down is that Williams might not have the long speed to win track meets against NFL defensive backs as he could in college. Outside of that, Williams impressed me in every game with his ability to move around as a passer and runner. Specifically in the latter category, he fights for every blade of grass and has a deep bag of ways to elude defenders, showing off some wildly impressive patience at times. Here's an example that shows all of that at once against Washington.


Mechanics (4.75/5)

Mechanically, Williams is rock solid. The throwing motion is consistent, and the ball comes out with some excellent zip (shocking, I know), but Williams also can make some impressive sidearm/alternative angle throws as well, demonstrated on film several times throughout these six games. His footwork is certainly impressive as well, as you can imagine.


Player Summary

I had a relatively high opinion of Williams coming into this report, and this has done nothing to drastically shake my confidence in the 22-year-old. He's not a generational prospect, but he brings a ton of excellent traits to the table despite not fitting the 'Prototype' mold that Drake Maye does. The arm talent, mobility, and out-of-structure ability are unreal and should garner the interest of a slew of NFL teams.


A couple more things on the way out. Something that rubbed me the wrong way was the perception of his reaction to losing to Washington when he met with his mother postgame, especially speaking as someone on the spectrum. Not everyone will emotionally process stuff the same way, and that was a vulnerable moment that the entire world saw. I don't think it's fair at all to judge his maturity on that one moment. Now, if you don't like that Williams didn't speak to the media after some of those losses, I can understand that. That's going to be expected of him moving forward anyway.


Finally, although this wasn't a scored trait, Williams' competitive toughness shouldn't be questioned. Halftime of that Notre Dame game was certainly the lowest point of his football career to that point. Three horrendous interceptions on National Television on the road against a ranked opponent, and the game was essentially over after that third pick. Let the record show that Caleb Williams did not quit that night, nor did he in USC's other tough losses this season to the likes of Washington and Utah. There might not be five better players in this draft, and he should have the inside track of being QB1 as of the time this goes up. He's not Patrick Mahomes, he's not Kyler Murray, he's just Caleb Williams, and he's really good.


Rookie Projections: High Upside Starter

Third-Year Projections: Pro Bowl/Fringe All-Pro Caliber Quarterback

Final Grade (92.25/100): Top 10 Talent


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