Caleb Williams is keeping everyone waiting in suspense.
Typically, when a player is widely considered to be the favorite to go first overall, there is little speculation about that player returning to college football. At most, the player will force his way off teams drafting first overall — Eli Manning forced a trade from the Chargers to the Giants in 2004.
But days away from the deadline to declare for the NFL draft, Williams has still not announced his intention to leave college football behind. He still has a year of eligibility remaining and could decide to return to play again for USC.
If Williams declares for the draft, he will be the favorite to go first overall, whether by the Bears selecting the pick or trading it. But until he declares, teams will not have an idea of whether he is draft eligible or whether he’ll be the favorite to go first in 2025.
MORE: What Quinn Ewers’ decision to return to Texas means for Arch Manning
Here’s the latest on Williams’ draft status.
Will Caleb Williams declare for NFL Draft?
That remains to be seen. The Athletic’s Kalyn Kahler reported that she spoke with Williams’ father, Carl Williams, on Wednesday, Jan. 10 and that he referred her to the family’s publicist. The publicist said that they were going to comment when everything is “buttoned up.”
Per Kahler, Williams has not yet hired an NFL Players Association agent, but that scouts don’t expect him to do so, saying instead he will be hiring a unique management team. Scouts still believe he will be declaring for the NFL draft, Kahler reported, though they aren’t sure why he has delayed. It is also possible he has already filed to declare for the draft, but just hasn’t announced anything yet.
There had been a report in July stating Williams was seeking ownership of a team as part of a deal to be drafted first. Kahler reported those conversations did happen, but that it was made prohibited for non-family employees to take equity in teams.
Back in November, Williams called leaving for the draft a “game-time decision” in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. Talking with GQ in September, Carl Williams said his son would have “two shots at the apple” and added that “if there’s not a good situation, the truth is, he can come back to school.”
Williams is clearly leaving both options on the table. In an era of NIL, where he has an estimated valuation of $ 2.7 million per year, the fifth-highest among athletes in college athletics. He still has plenty of money to earn from college football, but getting to the NFL also gets him one year on his rookie deal closer to signing a large extension in the NFL.
NFL Draft deadline 2024
Williams will have to announce a decision by Monday, Jan. 15, the deadline for underclassmen to submit their special eligibility forms to qualify for the draft.
Teams will receive the full list of draft-eligible players on Jan. 19.
Does Caleb Williams want to play for Bears?
After whether he’ll declare for the draft at all, this is the next biggest question. There is little known as to whether Williams wishes to be selected by the Bears.
There is precedent for a player not wanting to be selected by a particular team. Back in 2004, Manning was the favorite to be selected first overall, a pick that belonged to the Chargers. But Manning did not want to play for San Diego, later explaining that he was worried about the state of the organization. He was picked by the Chargers and threatened to sit out the season if he was taken. The Chargers traded him to the Giants less than an hour later.
If Williams makes it clear he does not want to play for the Bears, there would be no better way to avoid Chicago than by refusing to go to the draft at all. He could also attempt what Manning did and attempt to get Chicago to trade the pick or trade him if he’s taken first overall.
NFL supplemental draft rules
The supplemental draft is an alternate method for players to reach the NFL. If a player does not declare for the original draft, typically a result of collegiate eligibility issues, they can take part in the supplemental draft by applying to the league office.
The draft order is set in three groups: teams with six or fewer wins, then non-playoff teams, then the 14 playoff teams. Each group is randomly ordered, and teams place bids on the player in the same round. The bids are future draft picks, which can be anything from a future first-round pick to a future seventh-round pick.
The winning bid is determined by the team that gives up the earliest draft pick. If multiple teams offer the same round pick, the player ranked higher in the supplemental draft order lands the priority selection.
In 2012, the Browns used a second-round pick in the supplemental draft to land Josh Gordon. That meant they lost their 2013 second-round pick to land Gordon.
However, there is a catch that makes Williams unable to use the supplemental draft. Because he has collegiate eligibility remaining, he does not qualify for the supplemental draft in 2024. He would have to wait until 2025 to do so, at which point, he would no longer be able to return to USC for another season of college football.
Caleb Williams draft projection
By all accounts, Williams is going to be taken in the first two or three picks. Plenty of draft analysts have placed him above North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels, though some have listed the quarterbacks in different orders or have placed Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. ahead of him.
Given the importance franchises place on quarterbacks, it’s likely Williams or one of the other two quarterbacks will go at the top of the draft.
On Saturday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said the Bears are expected to take Williams if they decide to use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback. Here’s where other mock drafts have placed him: