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Scouting Caleb Williams: Is peak Russell Wilson a fair comparison?

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Nothing creates more buzz in the NFL scouting community than a talented prospect with franchise-quarterback potential. The allure of securing the next Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen or Joe Burrow prompts evaluators to envision building a perennial title contender with a dynamic QB1 leading the way.

After watching Caleb Williams spectacularly win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2022, the football world has been buzzing about his prospects as a generational talent at the position. While the scout in me was not ready to anoint Williams as the next superhero to enter the league, I anxiously awaited the USC standout’s encore performance to see if the hype was real based on the super-sized expectations surrounding his potential.

Despite a disappointing 2023 campaign that resulted in the Trojans finishing with a 7-5 record, the excitement over Williams will only escalate as the draft approaches and the Chicago Bears decide what to do with the No. 1 overall pick. Given the buzz surrounding his NFL prospects, this is the perfect time to take a long, hard look at Williams to determine if he will be the game-changer many envision as a pro.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Williams is a spectacular playmaker with dual-threat ability. As a three-year starter at Oklahoma and USC, he completed 66.9% of his passes for 10,082 yards with 93 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. With an additional 966 rushing yards and 27 scores, Williams is a big-play threat inside and outside the pocket.

Though his sensational playmaking feats routinely create viral highlight reels, NFL coaches and scouts must determine whether Williams possesses the patience, discipline and rhythmic game to thrive as a pocket passer.

Despite displaying the range, arm talent and creativity to make every throw in the pocket, Williams rarely executes a “catch, rock, and throw” concept on time. He tends to float or fade away on timing-based throws. Although his exceptional arm strength and talent enabled him to overcome his poor footwork and sloppy fundamentals in college, Williams will have to become more efficient and effective with a more disciplined approach from the pocket to succeed in the NFL.

That said, it is hard to poke holes in Williams’ game when studying his evolution from replacing Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma to ushering in the Lincoln Riley era at USC. The charismatic gunslinger is a certified baller with a knack for elevating the performance of the players around him. Whether it is the pinpoint dimes seemingly dropped from the heavens into the hands of speedy pass-catchers streaking down the seams or impromptu scrambles that mask the offensive line’s deficiencies, Williams’ superpowers can expand the playbook for a creative playcaller.

[2024 NFL Draft prospect rankings: Caleb Williams leads our top-50 big board]

At a time when the league is embracing mobile playmakers at the position, his dual-threat capabilities could make him a star in a multi-faceted system that features traditional drop-back concepts, RPOs, movement-based passes and play-action shots that showcase his skills as an electric gunslinger.

Though Williams’ big-play obsession leads to a few turnovers on hero throws, he has a highlight reel loaded with improbable splash plays on impromptu scramble tosses and off-platform throws that elicit oohs and aahs from coaches and scouts reviewing his tape. It is hard to create “explosives” (passes of 20 yards or more) in the NFL, but Williams’ unique skills could help an offense generate big plays on conventional and broken plays.

Caleb Williams shows off elite elusiveness in unreal TD vs. Arizona

Given the correlation between big plays and points, it is easy to see Williams’ appeal despite his undisciplined game and fumbling woes. While the nonchalant throws and ball-security issues (32 career fumbles) are correctable, his high-risk, high-reward style could make him a turnover machine as a pro if he remains reckless in the pocket.

Williams must also refine his skills as a rhythm passer on catch, rock, and throw passes. As a big-play hunter, he routinely turns down an easy completion or check-down to attempt a lower percentage throw, hoping to produce an explosive play. Though there is value in having a quarterback who excels working off the script, the most efficient NFL offenses feature pass-first point guards distributing the ball on time from the pocket.

Chicago’s choice: Caleb Williams, UNC’s Drake Maye or keep Justin Fields?

If Williams can master the art of playing on and off the script, he has the talent to become a superstar. When looking for a pro comparison, the incoming rookie reminds me a lot of Russell Wilson in his prime. As a scrambling threat with elite passing skills and a wicked deep ball, Williams flashes the potential to tease and torment defenders like the nine-time Pro Bowler did earlier in his career.

Moreover, Williams displays similar big-play traits as a crafty dual-threat quarterback.

Despite USC’s disappointing 2023 campaign, Williams’ three-year track record suggests his teams win because of his talents. He falls into the truck category in the truck or trailer debate — a quarterback either carries the team like a truck or the team carries the quarterback like a trailer — displaying take-over-the-game potential in crucial moments.

Considering how No. 1 overall picks are expected to step in as franchise saviors, Williams’ talent and potential separates him from the rest of the pack.

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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