USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams entered the 2023 season viewed as the consensus best player in college football and the consensus choice to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. With Williams’ collegiate career likely over, it seems the 2023 season raised bigger questions about Williams’ transition to the NFL.
The buzz surrounding Williams heading into the fall was sensational. Some scouts compared the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s physical talents to Patrick Mahomes. Based on evaluations from his film in 2022, NFL teams believed Williams belonged in the same class as generational quarterback prospects.
- Caleb Williams college stats (career): 10,082 passing yards, 93 passing touchdowns, 169.3 QB rating, 66.9 percent completion rate, 960 rushing yards, 27 rushing touchdowns
Even a former college football coach who worked closely with Andrew Luck and watched Trevor Lawrence believed Williams’ talents made him one of the best quarterback prospects ever. He was held in such high regard that reports of him wanting an ownership stake in the NFL team that drafts him weren’t immediately scoffed at.
However, conversations changed as the Trojans started to slip down the top 25 college football rankings and Williams’ effectiveness dipped. There’s now a strong debate around the league over who is the No. 1 quarterback between Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. While many are still high on the Trojans’ star, he does have a more magnified on-field concern in the eyes of NFL teams.
NFL Teams’ Biggest On-field Knock On Caleb Williams Scouting Report
On the Yahoo Sports’ Inside Coverage podcast, NFL insider Charles Robinson addressed NFL teams’ primary football concern with Williams when evaluating his film.
“On-field football, you’re hearing more about Caleb Williams now that is concerning teams is how much he’s operating in sortof an unscripted manner on offense. He’s running around, his feet aren’t always set the way they should be, there’s a Johnny Manziel-esque quality to it when he was at A&M. Where Johnny, a lot of the times, it looked like the offense was just Johnny trying to make a play, make something big happen. I think teams are starting to see some of that with Caleb Williams, especially in this last season, and they’re going to nitpick at that.Charles Robinson on biggest concern NFL teams have with Caleb Williams
Some of Williams’ best plays occurred when the original play design broke down and he had to create something independently. It’s a rare ability, usually only seen in NFL stars like Mahomes, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. However, NFL evaluators are correct that the best path to sustained success as an elite quarterback at the next level is the ability to operate within the structure of the offense and take what the defense gives.
However, context also matters. One of the biggest reasons Williams had to make so many plays on his last season was either due to a bad play call, the collapse of the Trojans’ offensive line or just great execution by the defense. One way to highlight that, per Pro Football Focus, USC’s offensive line ranked 124th in Pass Blocking Efficiency (88.3). The Trojans were one of just six Pac-12 teams to allow 100-plus pressures during the regular season and one of only three to reach that mark on fewer than 500 dropbacks.
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Of course, the concern exists for a reason. NFL teams have plenty of film on Williams’ ability to create on his own and that rare gift is one of the reasons he’s still viewed as a generational physical talent. He’ll just enter the NFL with teams wondering how he’ll perform within the structure of an offense.
“We also need to know that you can sit inside a structured offense and go through your reads and just play quarteback. Play quarterback, don’t play playmaker.”Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson on what NFL teams want from Caleb Williams
It’s not an unfair criticism of Williams, especially given his performance late in the year. Among qualified starting quarterbacks this season, Williams ranked 11th in NFL QB rating vs pressure (81.6) and he was 16th in completion rate (47.6 percent) when pressured with four interceptions and he ranked 51st in PFF grade.
Considering teams picking atop the 2024 NFL Draft likely won’t have quality offensive lines, Williams will face more pressure and the defenders he’s facing will be much faster and have a better understanding of how to stop him. While there are some slight risks, though, Williams’ upside can still make him the No. 1 overall pick and a star at the next level.