Caleb Williams is the 2024 NFL Draft’s most anticipated gem. A perfect, gleaming, status-altering figure who’ll lift the fortunes of the team that drafts him — but also completely out of reach for now. The Washington Commanders, Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, and New Orleans Saints all sit in pole position in most projections, but the Arizona Cardinals trading their third pick in last weekend’s draft for the 12th overall pick and Houston’s first-rounder in 2024 was Kyler Murray’s canary in the coal mine. Caleb Williams is on the clock.
Could Caleb Williams be Kyler Murray’s successor?
Murray tore the ACL in his left knee in early December, one month before Robert Griffin III suffered the same injury during the 2013 playoffs. RG3 was ready for Week 1 of the 2013 season, but from the sounds of it, Arizona is willing to give it half a season. Like RG3 fending off the encroaching Kirk Cousins, Murray is feeling the pressure with a successor potentially breathing over his shoulder.
I’m obviously not referring to Colt McCoy. The former Texas boy wonder has been a professional understudy since 2010. And even when he has played, he’s been one of the NFL’s more fragile quarterbacks.
If the Cardinals take the cautious route, Murray would miss a significant portion of the 2023 campaign. By the time he returns, the Cardinals would be midway into a free slide into the abyss. Waiting for them will be a fork in the road, a few more years of uncertainty around the quarterback they just shoveled resources into or embarking on a new project. Even if Murray returns and flips Arizona’s season around just enough to move them off the No. 1 pick, they have Houston’s 2024 first-round pick in place as a redundancy.
The Lincoln Riley effect?
Williams is worth the misery of a lost season for Arizona. “The best prospect since Andrew Luck” and “ Mahomesian talent” have been the superlatives tossed around, however, we’d be remiss not to pump the brakes on the Caleb Williams hoopla train accelerating toward next year’s draft without acknowledging that Lincoln Riley has created more hit-makers than Quincy Jones. However, there’s a caveat associated with drafting Riley quarterbacks. Once many of them depart his thriving offensive machine and go solo, Riley quarterbacks have been one-hit wonders at the next level. Baker Mayfield was an abject disaster for Cleveland, and then for Carolina. Murray’s improvs on Sunday are adrenaline-inducing, but his preparation and overconfidence in his abilities compare unfavorably to Ricky Bobby.
Riley also coached Hurts for one season, but the bulk of his upgrades as a passer occurred after he was drafted by the Eagles. Williams’ throwing mechanics, ability to throw from different angles, and rip it with zip have already earned him high praise.
The floor on Williams is high, but he could also pan out as the Trae Young to Mahomes’ Steph Curry. That’s the gamble teams will be more than willing to take on his prodigious upside. So far, Williams checks off all the intangibles boxes as well. His equanimity in tense moments mirrors Hurts’ calm composure. In clutch moments, he consistently rises to the occasion. Williams’ 53-yard touchdown to vanquish national powerhouse DeMatha High School in Washington D.C.’s Catholic Athletic Conference championship game as a sophomore was merely the beginning of his mythology.
From there, he matriculated to the Oklahoma Sooners where he was expected to sit behind Spencer Rattler for at least one season, possibly two. Instead, Sooner fans chanting “We want Caleb,” were granted their wish by October of that season. In Riley’s offense, Williams provided Riley with a physical running option who warped defenses with his legs, flashed the potential to fling it down the field with precision and protected the ball.
After replacing Rattler trailing 28-7 to Texas, Williams scored a touchdown on a 4th-and-1 designed run and snatched the job away permanently by spearheading the Sooners to a Red River Rivalry comeback victory. He snatched the ball away from a Sooner running back who was wrapped up by Kansas Jayhawk defenders on a critical 4th-and-1 to save the Sooners. There’s a reason he’d been labeled Superman on the gridiron.
Heisman Trophy winner at USC
From there, Williams re-emerged at USC as an even more proficient passer in his sophomore season, logging a 42:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Even on a hamstring he popped in the first quarter against Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Williams registered 363 yards through the air and three touchdowns. This wasn’t your stacked Trojans teams of yesteryear either. Williams nearly carried a roster cobbled together on the college football transfer market to a playoff berth.
However, NFL scouts are natural haters. Williams measures in at 6-foot-1, which isn’t great but leaves him on par with Hurts, and possesses a thick lower body that can sustain the rigors of an 18-week NFL schedule. As long as he doesn’t “shrink” between now and 2024, his size shouldn’t be an issue.
However, if he’s found wanting in that department, UNC’s 6-foot-4 Drake Maye fits the stereotypical requirements for a franchise quarterback and has a buzz of his own. NFL scouts who love embellishing the most infinitesimal defects, will dissect Williams and try to knock him down a peg between now and then. Before Williams’ name is engraved on the No. 1 pick, he’ll be scrutinized more thoroughly over the next year than a presidential candidate in an election year. Williams will be dissected thoroughly over the next year, but he’s aced each test with flying colors during his first two seasons under the spotlight.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex