2024 draft prospect Room to Improve: USC QB Caleb Williams
One of the things I’ve learned over the last 20 years in evaluating NFL draft prospects is to have a strong baseline to work off with players. That means summer scouting; film review of college players from the prior season.
I use this to preemptively nitpick prospects and see where I want them to improve in the upcoming college season. It’s a series I did back in the day as part of the Draft Breakdown (RIP) team, and I’m reviving it here as the Room to Improve series for the 2024 NFL draft.
We’ll kick off the series with a big name: USC quarterback Caleb Williams. He’s an early front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick.
I watched four Trojans games with a focus on Williams: Utah, Oregon State, UCLA and their bowl game against Tulane. In watching those games, it’ easy to see why the scouting community is bullish on Williams. He’s a very impressive all-around, dual-threat quarterback who ure appears to have a bright NFL future.
Having said that, there are a few areas where Williams can make himself an even better prospect. Here are some things I’d like to see Williams improve during the 2023 college season at USC — from an NFL evaluation standpoint.
Reading the full defense
One of the big knocks on Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker in the 2023 draft was that his offensive scheme didn’t ask him to read the entire field consistently. That’s also true with Williams in head coach Lincoln Riley’s shotgun spread scheme.
Most of Williams’ throws are based on the pre-snap formation and initial reads created by the scheme. As was the case with former Riley QBs (at Oklahoma, where Williams began his college career) Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, it leads to Williams not always seeing the breadth of the coverage when he has to progress beyond his initial read.
This probably won’t change much during the college season. Riley’s scheme works very well, and his job is to win football games more than it is to appease NFL evaluators. It would still be nice to see Williams look off a safety or better anticipate a speedy linebacker closing on a route more often.
Williams is blessed with an elite right arm. His arm strength is undeniable, and his confidence in it helps make Williams great. But he could help himself by delivering the ball from a more consistent throwing platform and mechanics.
Here’s an example from the PAC-12 Championship game against a very good Utah defense. Williams completes the pass, but he makes it more difficult on himself by choosing to throw with all arm instead of using better mechanics. This pops up repeatedly but not endemically in Williams’s game tape.
The ability to throw strikes without ideal mechanics can be a real asset. Josh Allen of the Bills and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs are great examples of using varying arm angles and footwork to their advantage. But they’ve both curbed the habit of throwing off-platform when it’s not necessary from their college days. That’s a development Williams can glean from their greatness.
Drifting in the pocket
Another area where Williams can help himself is being more conscious of drifting too far back in the pocket. In this rep against Oregon State, Williams isn’t under heavy pressure but still takes two extra steps back in the pocket. It impacts the delivery on the throw and the throwing angle and timing to the receiver.
This will be an especially important point for West Coast-style offenses and those NFL offenses which run precise angles in route combinations that requires proper spacing and football geometry. This is an issue Russell Wilson had to overcome coming out of college and largely has done so successfully.