What was once an afterthought, is now becoming top of mind. USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams entered the 2023 college football season with a chance at history. He was looking to win the Heisman Trophy for the 2nd straight season and lead the USC Trojans to their first National Championship since 2004. He would ride off into the College Football sunset, and then, as everyone was projecting, would be the number one overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for Caleb Williams and the Trojans, the 2023 season did not go as planned. After starting 6-0, and putting up Heisman numbers, the team fell flat, lost five of their final six games, and Williams looked much more human than he had the previous season.
As it usually happens, fans and media will overact and have rash opinions and reactions. This was the case for many as Williams began to fall out of favor as the first overall pick.
Now that the dust of the regular season has settled, the consensus is back to where it should be, Caleb Williams will be the first player drafted to either the Chicago Bears or the team that trades up to the first spot to get him.
But there is just one problem.
Caleb Williams has yet to officially declare for the NFL Draft. The deadline to declare is January 15.
I still believe, and most in NFL and College circles do as well, that Williams will declare before the deadline and head to the NFL Draft. But why hasn’t he yet? What is the holdup? He already sat out of the Bowl game, and the Trojans seemingly have moved forward with Miller Moss slated to be the signal caller in 2024, and freshman Jayden Maiava transferring in as of Jan 9th.
But as is life, the delay has the rumor mill cooking.
Could Caleb Williams Play His Senior Season With The USC Trojans
Let’s quickly dive into this. Is there a real possibility that Williams will return for his senior season?
Since the end of the 2023 season, Lincoln Riley has overhauled his team in hopes of getting back on track in 2024. He’s brought in D’Anton Lynn as the new DC, Matt Entz as the Linebackers coach, and Doug Belk as the defensive backs coach. He has focused his transfer portal efforts primarily on rebuilding the defense and changing the way they will look heading into the Big Ten.
The offense has gained some depth through the transfer portal and with the incoming 2024 class, but after the offensive explosion they had against the #16 ranked defense in the Holiday Bowl, the unit appears to be in good shape.
With the way the offseason has gone so far, could Caleb Williams view this as an opportunity to come back and chase that elusive National Championship?
I will never say never, but it still seems very unlikely this actually happens. Had Williams played in the Bowl game, even if was just a formality at the time, I could have maybe gotten behind this scenario a bit more, but since he opted out, and didn’t practice with the team for the six weeks leading up to the game, this is not only very unlikely, but it could actually have a negative effect on the team.
That is not to say that Caleb Williams isn’t still beloved by his teammates, but you never know how the core would handle a team captain leaving the team and then deciding to come back last minute.
Caleb Williams NFL Draft Stock
The other side of the decision is Caleb Williams’ NFL Draft Stock. Even with the somewhat “down year” that Williams had by his standards, at the moment, he is still the consensus number one overall pick. Sounds pointless, and almost obtuse, to say, but there is no possible way for his draft stock to get any higher.
But another down year in college, or, knock on wood, an injury, and his draft projection could plummet.
If Willams came back for his senior season, for whatever reason, it wouldn’t have anything to do with improving his NFL Draft projection.
NIL Money Vs NFL Rookie Money
There has also been chatter (very uninformed chatter) that perhaps Williams could earn more in NIL money if he were to return than if he went to the NFL on a rookie contract.
While this can actually be true for some players, looking at you Cameron Ward, this is not the case for Caleb Williams.
According to On3.com‘s NIL valuation, Caleb Williams has an annual NIL value of $2.7 million. This is obviously amazing money for a collegiate athlete and something that was not even legally possible three years ago.
However, as the number one overall pick, he will have the opportunity to earn a total value over his contract of $42 million (just the NFL contract, which does not include any endorsement money, some of which will carry over from his college days), with a guaranteed signing bonus of about $27 million. Even if he were to slip to, let’s say, the 5th overall pick, his total potential earnings are roughly $34.5 million.
The money is still in the NFL.
2024 USC Trojans Transfer Portal Tracker
Is The NFL Team Drafting First A Real Factor?
The final factor to look at and this one probably has the most validity, is the franchise in which Caleb Williams will be drafted.
Rumors came out during last season, that because of NIL (even though we know it would be less than a number one overall pick contract), Williams would be willing to stay in college another year if the team that was selecting him was not the best situation for him.
The rumor was, and it is just a rumor at that, that his short list of desired teams was the Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants. None of these teams have first overall pick and would have to give a ton of capital (specifically the Niners and Cowboys who are in the playoffs) to move up to number one.
The Chicago Bears are currently sitting at one. They just fired their OC and QB coach, but retained head coach Matt Eberflus. This still feels like a bit of a clunky fit and the Bears are an organization that has been a bit in disarray for more than a decade.
Washington, Williams’ hometown team, sits at number two. They were not on his “rumored” list, but with new ownership, and a new head coach coming in, you have to think this fit makes a ton of sense. They also just hired one of the top GM candidates in the league.
Either way, with how much money is on the table, and with no opportunity to improve his draft stock, you have to think that Caleb Williams will officially declare for the NFL Draft by January 15th.