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Trading for the No. 1 pick to draft Caleb Williams? Here’s why your team should be cautious

The USC quarterback is expected to be the top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but still has several big questions to answer.

Caleb Williams of the USC Trojans looks on during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 18, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers made a big deal in the 2023 NFL Draft, trading for the No. 1 overall pick to select Alabama quarterback Bryce Young to lead the franchise. Young had just wrapped up a 10-2 season with ‘Bama following his 2021 Heisman Trophy campaign, throwing for 32 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Even though Young had regressed slightly from his Heisman season, he was still believed to be the No. 1 quarterback in the class.

The Panthers gave up a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver in D.J. Moore in the trade, along with their first-round pick and several other draft assets to snag Young. The results were not good in Year 1; Young was sacked 62 times behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and completed slightly under 60% of his passes as the Panthers limped to a 2-15 season. The quarterback had little support, with his top two running backs averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry and his best receiver needing 103 receptions to hit 1,014 receiving yards. The Panthers had no vertical threats, no field spacers and little protection for their quarterback. Head coach Frank Reich was fired after 11 games, and the entire franchise needs a reset.

The Bears, who held last year’s No. 1 pick and made the trade to Carolina, again have the top selection courtesy of the Panthers. Chicago opted to keep head coach Matt Eberflus for the 2024 season and might do the same with incumbent quarterback Justin Fields, which means another potential deal for No. 1. And there are several teams interested in that pick and the opportunity to take USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

Williams dazzled fans and NFL personnel for the first five weeks of the season, before pulling out an insane win over Arizona in overtime to push the Trojans to 6-0 and make them legitimate CFP contenders. He was able to mask USC’s horrendous defense and make throws no other quarterback could make. Williams was being compared to Patrick Mahomes, and the comparisons weren’t out of line.

Then came the Notre Dame game. Williams had no answers against the Irish, who intercepted the reigning Heisman Trophy winner three times in a 48-20 blowout. The Trojans lost to Utah the following week and despite a wild win over Cal, the jig was up. USC lost its last three games.

While none of that has done anything to change the conversation around Williams’ talent, some of his other actions might raise eyebrows. There was the famous GQ article after the first two weeks of the season, where it looked like Williams was set to lead USC to an undefeated campaign and the playoff. Some of the quotes from Williams and his father might seem harmless to outsiders but will raise red flags for any GM or coach who is tying his future to the quarterback.

The Washington Commanders and New York Giants, two teams potentially in the mix to move up for Williams, allowed more sacks than the Panthers did this season. The Patriots, also in the market for a quarterback, allowed 48 sacks. The Bears, who could hold onto the top pick, gave up 50. Washington might have a No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin, but the Giants and Patriots are lacking at the skill positions. The Commanders likely wouldn’t have to give up McLaurin to move up from No. 2 to No. 1, but the Bears could still ask for Jahan Dotson or Dyami Brown as a receiver with potential. The 2024 wide receiver class is looking deep, so dealing a receiver to snag Williams might not be the worst decision if you can add a replacement in the later rounds.

But any general manager who is making that type of deal for Williams needs to know the quarterback is committed to improving the players around him. That GQ article alone is enough for NFL executives to pepper Williams with questions about his mindset at the combine. Trading for him will mean making dents into other parts of the roster, which Williams will need to paper over. We’ve seen C.J. Stroud successfully elevate the Texans despite having limitations with the roster, and there’s no doubt Williams could do the same. There’s also the possibility he faces the same struggles as Young, and that has set the Panthers back at least a few seasons.

There will be a conversation across the league about Williams and North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, but there’s a separate conversation to be had about whether trading for the No. 1 pick to take Williams is a prudent move. It’ll likely come down to how he performs in interviews at the combine, since his on-field ability is unquestionably great. If he can provide NFL personnel with the answers they’re looking for, we’ll get more reports of teams circling the Bears for the top pick.