Caleb Williams Goes to the Chicago Bears With the No. 1 Overall Pick in the NFL Draft

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Chicago Bears with the first overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (Jeff Roberson / AP Photo)Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Chicago Bears with the first overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (Jeff Roberson / AP Photo)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Caleb Williams, welcome to Chicago.

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The expectations are clear: Become the franchise quarterback the Bears have craved for years and lift the founding NFL franchise to the top of the league. Other than that, there's no pressure at all.

“I don’t think of it that way,” Williams said after the Bears took him with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night. “That may be the narrative. For me, I handle my job."

General manager Ryan Poles made a half-hearted attempt during the week to play things close to the vest when it came to the first pick by telling everyone to “tune in” as he smiled.

The real mystery, of course, was what they would do at No. 9. The Bears took Washington All-American Rome Odunze, giving them another potential play-making receiver to go with DJ Moore and six-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen. They also have a third-rounder (75) and a fourth-rounder (122).

As for Williams?

"I handle business on and off the field and then I go to work,” he said. "I enjoy what I do. I love what I do. I’m in there with my guys and my guys are seeing me, they see how hard I work, their guy, their QB, and we go get it. We go win games together. That’s the biggest thing is winning games together because I can’t win a game by myself. Keenan Allen can’t win a game by himself. And so making sure that we’re all together, offense, defense, special teams, and we go get it.”

Poles said Williams became the clear choice at No. 1 once he completed his top 30 visit. It will be up to the organization to help the QB reach his potential, whether it's the coaching, the talent surrounding him or the support in other areas such as nutrition and mental skills.

“One, the infrastructure has to be there and I think we’ve done that part to have the talent around our quarterback now," Poles said. "I think the other thing is our entire organization is going to have to be on the same page on how we handle this, how we develop Caleb. But I also say I think we have a really good approach with all of the players and I think that’s maybe different than it was in the past."

Chicago has just three playoff appearances since the 2006 team reached the Super Bowl and failed to advance in the postseason twice in that span. The Bears are 10-24 in two seasons under Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. But they see themselves as a playoff contender after going from three wins in 2022 to finishing 7-10 last season.

They've made some big moves this offseason, acquiring Allen from the Los Angeles Chargers to team with Moore and then giving Williams another target in the draft. Odunze, who led the nation with a school-record 1,640 yards receiving last season, said he's “super excited” to catch passes from him.

“I got to watch him when I was playing him in college, and he is super talented and a generational player, so to be able to catch balls from him and compete right beside him is a special thing,” he said.

If Williams develops the way the Bears hope, he'll be in rare territory in Chicago. The quarterback spot, after all, has been a source of frustration in Chicago.

The Bears are the only team not to have someone throw for 4,000 yards in a season. Now, they're banking on Williams to develop in ways former starter Justin Fields and Mitchell Trubisky never did after being taken with high draft picks.

“You look into it and you wonder why,” Williams said. “I asked questions, obviously. I have no shame in asking questions. So, you know, you ask why and things like that. They’re all for answering questions, they told the truth and that’s what that was. They told me the truth.”

Williams, wearing a navy blue suit, let out a loud roar as he walked on stage and hugged Commissioner Roger Goodell. He put on a cap and held up a Bears No. 1 jersey, the same number Fields wore during his three seasons in Chicago.

Williams has the arm strength and ability to avoid defenders, to extend plays and make throws on the run. He's also strong in the pocket, an area where Fields struggled, and he'll have no shortage of targets. They include two productive tight ends in Cole Kmet and newcomer Gerald Everett.

Williams had 93 touchdowns and 14 interceptions during three seasons at Oklahoma and USC. He threw for 72 TDs and just 10 interceptions in two years with the Trojans. He also showed the ability to run, scoring 27 rushing touchdowns in college.

Williams followed coach Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles and won the Heisman in 2022. He threw for 4,537 yards, 42 touchdowns and five interceptions to lift USC from four wins in 2021 to 11 and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.

Williams put up big numbers again last season while the Trojans struggled to an 8-5 record with one of the nation’s worst defenses. He threw for 3,333 yards, 30 touchdowns and five interceptions in 12 games. He did not play in the Holiday Bowl.

Williams is the third player drafted by the Bears with the No. 1 pick. The other two were halfbacks — Michigan's Tom Harmon in 1941 and Oklahoma A&M's Bob Fenimore in 1947.

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