Quarterback-starved Chicago wondering if Caleb Williams is (finally) the right answer

The podium is set on the NFL draft stage in Detroit.
The NFL draft stage is all set in Detroit. (Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

In keeping with tradition, the top prospects in the NFL draft participated in a youth football event Wednesday and then met on the field with the media.


Twelve of those future pros wore NFL-issued gray sweats.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the likely No. 1 overall pick who marches to his own drumbeat, broke ranks and wore blue.

“This one actually has a little more fur on the inside,” Williams said, turning his neckline to show the inside of his sweatshirt. “You prepare for the moment.”

Good that he’s prepared for the cold. Williams almost certainly is heading for the Chicago Bears. And the chilly breeze on an overcast April day in Detroit is nothing compared to the historical headwinds of playing quarterback in Chicago — and the icy blowback if things don’t go as planned.

“The fans here in town are gun-shy when it comes to quarterbacks because we’ve been wandering in the quarterback desert for centuries, or let’s say decades,” said Tom Waddle, the former Bears receiver turned ESPN radio host in Chicago. “There’s a certain percentage of folks who believe they’re still going to screw this up.”

Caleb Williams reacts during an NFL Football Play Football Prospect Clinic with Special Olympics athletes in Detroit.
Caleb Williams reacts after a throw during an NFL Football Play Football Prospect Clinic with Special Olympics athletes in Detroit. The USC quarterback is predicted to be taken first in the draft by the Chicago Bears. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Waddle has high hopes for Williams, and his enthusiasm isn’t dampened by USC losing five of their final six games last season — much of that blame goes to a porous defense — or the quarterback sobbing into the shoulder of his mom after an especially painful defeat.

“I’m not guaranteeing that Caleb’s going to be a Hall of Famer and take this team back to the promised land,” Waddle said. “I feel very good about what he can bring to this team, and I think he’s walking into a really good situation where the infrastructure is very good for a guy that’s being picked first overall.”

The Bears have gone 17 years without consecutive winning seasons. They used first-round picks on quarterbacks Justin Fields (2021) and Mitch Trubisky (2017), and traded a package of picks to Denver — including two first-rounders — for Jay Cutler. None of those players proved to be the answer.

“That’s the thing about Chicago, they’ve run two quarterbacks out of town who were first-round picks and highly touted,” said former Bears quarterback Jim Miller, referring to Fields and Trubisky. “So I think there’s some trepidation from Bears fans that, hey, this can’t happen again. This has to be the guy.”

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Miller, now a host for Sirius XM NFL Radio, left open the remote possibility that the Bears could shock the NFL world and take Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy instead.

“J.J. McCarthy has shot up these boards so much because of how disciplined he is in his play,” Miller said. “So I would not rule out him, either. I think everybody assumes it’s Caleb Williams. I think he’s probably the most talented guy. But I wouldn’t rule out McCarthy, because Caleb has had his issues with turnovers.”

There’s actually a cluster of quarterbacks likely to hear their names early Thursday night, including Louisiana State’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

“It’s a great class,” Williams said. “It’s one of the best classes, I would say, that’s come out. High-talented class. … I’m excited for everyone else’s future.”

Williams is unapologetic about his unconventional style, which included posing in a dress for a GQ photo shoot.

Read more: Even if not in Round 1, Rams know they need to find pass rushers in draft

“I feel comfy in my own skin,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I feel comfy in who I am, how hard I work, what I do in my daily life, how I act, how I treat people with respect.”

He flashed his pinkies to reveal silver nail polish.

“You go to a nail salon and it’s peaceful,” he said. “It’s something that not many people are doing. But I go there and I just sit down, I throw on my [headphones], I turn on a movie. I’m chilling, not bothered by anything other than what I want to be bothered by.”

Williams likes being unconventional. With his attire Wednesday, he turned an annual NFL event into a different kind of blue-gray game. He happily breaks with tradition.

Nobody wants to break with tradition more than the Bears.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.