Caleb Williams has his work cut out every time he hits the field for USC.
Sure, it helps to have Lincoln Riley calling the shots for you and a deep group of playmakers to distribute the ball to. You know what’s entirely out of Williams’ control? The ability to close deals on recruits, and the defensive talent Riley manages to lure to the Trojans.
With an absolute sieve of a USC defense constantly putting Williams in a state of fight-or-flight hero ball mode, it’s not a surprise to see him face a higher-quality opponent like Notre Dame and have some struggles. But even an objectively bad day on the gridiron for Williams is better than about 85% of the rest of his counterparts across the nation.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday night in South Bend. The Fighting Irish downright embarrassed Williams to the tune of three first-half interceptions.
You couldn’t jinx anyone much harder than ESPN draft expert Matt Miller did by dropping a deep-dive piece on FRIDAY THE 13TH OF ALL DAYS. According to the article (behind a paywall), NFL personnel folks are drooling over the reigning Heisman Trophy winner like you wouldn’t believe.
Well worth your time to scroll through the IG post below.
To summarize: Williams would’ve gone No. 1 overall against the likes of Joe Burrow in 2020 and Trevor Lawrence in 2021 had he been in the same draft class with the skill set he has now. That according to an NFL general manager. An AFC scout called Williams “peak Aaron Rodgers.” What? Before he takes a snap in the pros? Really?
An NFC scout touted Williams as the best dual-threat prospect “maybe ever.” And finally, an NFC scouting director states that Williams is a “once-in-a-generation prospect.”
I don’t necessarily *hard* disagree with all these takes. I’ve been on the Williams Wagon from Day 1, when he forced Spencer Rattler to the bench at Oklahoma. I just spent the first 150 words or so of this article defending the guy. And I’ll continue to do so to cap this whole thing off — but first…
You know how this is going to go. The week-to-week nature of football will have the keyboard warriors on social media questioning everything about Williams’ credentials. Just look at the IG comments. They’ll be littered with, “AGING POORLY!” and “WHAT AN ‘L’ HE JUST TOOK LOL” and so on.
The mere notion that he could even hold a candle to the likes of Burrow and Lawrence as prospects will fly out the window. For now…
To paraphrase legit GOATed NFL analyst J.T. O’Sullivan from The QB School YouTube channel, multiple things can be true at the same time. OK? So before I get into this and anyone comes at me all up in their feelings, let’s establish that.
I know. It’s tough to have any sort of nuance these days outside the hot take mania that blasts onto our TV screens and clipped-up X/IG videos.
Regarding Williams’ career-worst performance in Saturday’s loss at Notre Dame, on the heels of that puff piece from ESPN, multiple things can be true at the same time. A couple are cut-down recaps of points already made. The next two set up the finish!
– Caleb Williams needs to cool it with trying to make the big play all the time. It’s OK to take what the defense gives you, and not try to hit the home run.
– AND. And. The circumstances he’s dealing with at USC (read: terrible defense) require the Trojans to put up 40 points just to have a chance.
– AND. Just because he had one bad game doesn’t flush out all the goodwill/deserved hype that Williams has received from the draftnik community — even if the ESPN piece is a little over the top.
– AND. For sure, Saturday’s game exposed the clear, biggest flaw in Williams’ game as it relates to translating from college to the NFL.
Williams makes a living on explosive plays, which are frequently created outside the structure of the offense. You can’t do that on the majority of downs on NFL Sundays and expect to be consistent, or elite at the position.
The thing is, Williams has so much raw athleticism, arm strength and confidence that he can make magic happen on almost every play at the collegiate level. So he does. And it’s so fun to watch. And some of that does translate very well to Sundays.
Get a load of this freakazoid instance of red-zone improvisation:
One guy you hear Williams often compared to is Patrick Mahomes in terms of skill set, the ability to make off-schedule plays, deliver the ball accurately from crazy arm angles, etc. All the attributes.
Recall that when Mahomes was at Texas Tech, he struggled far more with putting the ball in harm’s way and throwing interceptions than Williams ever has. Why was that? Allow the two-time Super Bowl MVP to explain it himself in one of the most insightful pre-draft pieces you’ll ever read from Doug Farrar:
“B/R:Some people have called you a gunslinger. You call yourself a gunslinger. Are you conscious of having to be more careful with these throws against NFL defenses?
“Mahomes:Yeah, definitely. This is a whole different football game than playing in the Big 12—when you have to score 50 points a game to win because the offenses are so good, you have to take more chances and put the ball downfield more.
In the NFL, you might be facing a coverage where you don’t need to score—you’d like to, but if it’s 3rd-and-15, you might want to take a short pass, get better field position, punt the ball and stuff like that. That’s a win, and you’ve got to know what the situations are, and you’ve got to realize that you have fewer possessions than you have in the Big 12.”
This is literally Caleb Williams’ life right now. It’ll continue to be until he’s finished at USC. And just wait until the Trojans face their final three-game gauntlet of Washington, Oregon and UCLA to close the regular season. Yowza.
As long as he heeds those past words from Mahomes about how NFL game management is drastically different, I see no world in which Williams isn’t a superstar. The young man has the goods and then some. He demonstrates the ability to make full-field reads from the pocket more consistently than you’d believe based on all the highlight-reel shenanigans he gets up to when the play breaks down.
Don’t buy into the overreaction to how Williams fared in a blowout loss on the road. Easy as it is to do. I know North Carolina’s Drake Maye played better tonight and it’ll be all, “Oh I don’t know! Maybe Maye is the better prospect.”As I nearly finish this off, it’s already starting…