Why the NFL Combine is so important for the Bears' Caleb Williams decision

Why the NFL Combine is so important for the Bears' Caleb Williams decision originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears are about to embark on what could be the most important week of their offseason when they descend on Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Combine. But it might not be important for the reasons you imagine.

The Combine, which is sometimes (un?)affectionately known as the Underwear Olympics, is a platform for the top college prospects to show off their athletic prowess in a variety of drills in front of scouts for all 32 NFL teams. Players are weighed, measured and even undergo thorough medical examinations. There will be wall-to-wall coverage of 40-yard dashes and people will debate whether Player A or Player B displayed more explosive agility in the shuttle run.

That’s all well and good, but for the Bears (and many other NFL teams), a player’s college tape is really his resume of what he can do on the field. In many cases, teams are more excited to get to know the players on a personal level than they are to see them sprinting in shorts.

We know this is the case with GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus. Each man has stressed the importance of assessing the character of a player and getting to know more about their personality. That’s why the team brought a putt-putt set and a dartboard to the Combine last year to kick off their player interviews. Not only did they want to set players at ease with some games so that they could get a better sense of who they truly are personally, they also wanted a glimpse into their competitive spirit.

We don’t know if the Bears will reprise those games this year, or if they’ll upgrade to foosball and pop-a-shot, or if they do something else entirely, but the Bears will do something to assess the character of some key players in the draft. Will something surface that turns them off of Caleb Williams? Or will their interview confirm he’s their choice with the No. 1 pick?

No matter what the Bears decide to do at quarterback, a trade is likely in their future. If the Bears fall in love with Wililams, they figure to send Justin Fields to a QB-needy team in exchange for some extra draft capital. If they don’t fall in love with Williams, the thinking is they’d trade away the No. 1 pick to a team that did.

Last year, the Bears had the No. 1 overall pick and opted to stick with Fields. Knowing they weren’t going to pick a QB, they shopped around the top selection in the draft to the highest bidder, ultimately coming to an agreement with the Panthers. The framework for that deal came together at the Combine. The same thing could happen again this year for either another No. 1 pick trade, or a Fields trade. At the very least, the Bears will gather valuable intel on the markets for each.

Of course, the Bears will scout players at the Combine and they’ll use some of that information as they put together their draft boards. Williams’ decision not to throw in Indianapolis almost certainly will not affect how they view him as a prospect. But the Bears have several more draft picks beyond the No. 1 choice. We know Poles prefers athletic players when he scouts options for the Bears roster. A particularly impressive showing at the Combine could convince Poles to take a flier on one Day Three prospect over another.

Poles will be a busy man this week and the intel he gathers could shape not only the rest of the offseason, but the course of the franchise. Only some of that intel will come from the field.

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