“He Is Not Special” – Merril Hoge Is A Firm Non-Believer In Caleb Williams, Implores Bears To Keep Justin Fields

Caleb Williams Merril Hodge
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There was a time when Merril Hoge famously dueled Skip Bayless head-to-head on TV and, 10 toes down, told Skip to his face that Johnny Manziel would be a massive bust in the NFL.

Hoge also famously labeled the eventual No. 1 overall pick in that loaded 2014 NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney, “a very average football player.” By first overall pick standards and by the near-unprecedented hype that accompanied him, Clowney has been that.

I’m sure Hoge has missed plenty often over the years, but it’s certainly notable that he’s so insistent that former USC Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams won’t be the franchise savior the Chicago Bears are hoping for. There’s a difference between “having reservations” and “straight-up ethering” somebody; Hoge did the latter here to Williams, the presumptive top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft:

“He is not special. He is not something unique like a Patrick Mahomes, and I hope the Bears don’t think, ‘Well, let’s try to make up for our mistake when we passed up Patrick Mahomes’. […] The kid is not Patrick Mahomes. He ain’t even remotely close to that.”

Hoge also stumps for Justin Fields, the current Bears QB who has had three seasons’ worth of opportunities and has a bottom-line starting record of 10-28. Not great! But Hoge blames the revolving door of offensive coordinators and lack of continuity for Fields’ shortcomings, and says he’s shown enough promise to hang onto.

The most-often cited comparison to Williams amongst current QBs — which doesn’t do him any favors — is Patrick Mahomes, the man who’s led the Kansas City Chiefs to four Super Bowl appearances, and could lift the Lombardi Trophy for the third time this Sunday. To assert that Williams will have a career anywhere near Mahomes’ is, as Chris Evans said in Knives Out, some heavy-duty conjecture. But you can’t help but see similarities between the two. Williams has a similar ability to extend plays with his legs, make off-platform throws with velocity and accuracy, and to keep his team hanging tough in shootouts.

All due respect to Hoge, I couldn’t disagree more with him about the lack of “special” in Williams’ film. Granted, Hoge did clarify that he only watched six USC games (three from 2022, three from 2023). But like…I don’t know how you watch any given half Williams has played and not see “special” all over his game tape. While I’m a little concerned that Williams plays out of structure a little too often, he makes enough correct reads in the flow of the offense that give me confidence he can do so at the NFL level. This isn’t Manziel levels of freelancing, backyard football. Plus, the arm talent Williams has is miles better than Johnny Football.

Of note: Williams has officially tabbed Hoge’s take as a receipt! The plot thickens!! Let’s goooooooo I’m so here for it.

Williams does play and carry himself with a certain swagger that can be construed as cocky (SUPERMAN as his X/Twitter banner, for instance). He hasn’t faced a ton of football-related adversity. When he lost to Washington this year, Williams was caught sobbing in the stands afterwards. That said, the aforementioned shootout scenarios are a version of adversity that Mahomes was adept at handling during his time at Texas Tech, too. The Trojans defense under Lincoln Riley was such a sieve, and was at Oklahoma as well.

Because he’s so widely viewed as the favorite to go No. 1 overall and is seen as a “generational talent”, it’s easier nitpick Williams for what are, to me, rather trivial reasons. I just don’t see how you don’t reset the financial clock with a rookie QB contract by drafting Williams, and trading Fields away to the highest bidder. If Fields was “the guy”, he wouldn’t turn down open receivers, see ghosts in the pocket as often as he does, and he’d generally elevate his supporting cast and rise above a fair share of dysfunction.

It was reported that a big part of Luke Getsy’s appeal as the Raiders’ new offensive coordinator was the consensus around the league that he wasn’t the problem in Chicago the past two years when he called the plays for Fields. I dive deep into Fields, Getsy and the mess that the Bears offense has been in that linked piece in significant detail. Bottom line is, Getsy, Fields and a piss-poor offensive line were all to blame. How you want to divvy that up maters not to me.

I will say that the Bears’ clear WR1, DJ Moore, believes Fields deserves to stay in the Windy City. That’s a clutch endorsement for sure.

Nevertheless, I’ll agree to disagree with Moore and others who say the Bears are better off keeping Fields, trading the No. 1 pick for a haul, and trying to forge ahead.

No one has been more adamantly anti-Williams to Chicago as Hoge, though, at least from what I’ve seen. I’m stunned that Hoge really believes there’s no chance Caleb Williams is better than Justin Fields. Every fiber of my being tells me Williams will be the superior NFL quarterback.

To be clear, I still like Fields, and think he can be successful in a system that leans into his strengths more, namely, designed QB runs. Fields needs a change of scenery to regain his confidence, with an offense better tailored to his strengths. The Bears need a fresh start for money purposes, general morale purposes and to just give their fans a new hope. They’ve never successfully developed a long-term stud at quarterback as far as I can remember. Williams has the physical tools, competitive drive and X-factor as a dual-threat playmaker to overcome that ominous history, in my opinion.

Let’s check back in a few years, Merril. I’ll bet I’m right, and I bet the Bears will have done the right thing by trading Fields and drafting Williams. In the meantime, check out some of these “not special” highlights, and speculate away that Williams will instead reunite with ex-USC assistant Kliff Kingsbury and play for his hometown Washington Commanders.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock