NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: College-to-pro projections for USC QB Caleb Williams

2T958PW LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 04: USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) looks to throw the ball during a college football game between the Washington Huskies against the USC Trojans on November 04, 2023, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA(Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The 2024 NFL Draft is fast approaching. The PFF big board is live, mock draft season is in full swing and the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine has wrapped up.

This year's draft presents an exciting quarterback class chock full of big names. USC's Caleb Williams headlines the group as one of the nation's premier playmakers, but North Carolina's Drake Maye, LSU's Jayden Daniels, Michigan's J.J. McCarthy and Oregon's Bo Nix have all been taken in the first round of recent mock drafts.

Let's look at USC's Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, who is widely regarded as the class' top prospect.


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Click here to see Caleb Williams' 2024 NFL Draft profile.

SCOUTING SUMMARY

Williams thrived over the last three seasons in Lincoln Riley's modernized Air Raid offense. His arm talent is well above average, and his footwork provides him with a good base in addition to supplementary body control and balance to make off-platform throws.

His accuracy is natural and impressive both in and out of structure. He can hold onto the ball too long, but that's due to his freedom in a vertical offense rather than an inability to process.

His 2023 struggles were due to inconsistency. His fearless confidence does lead to some incorrect decisions, but you live with that due to the magic he makes in similar situations.

WINS ABOVE AVERAGE

WAA represents the number of wins a player is worth over an average college football player and is a metric that evaluators can utilize to assess performance. It combines how well a player performed in each facet of play (using PFF grades) and how valuable each facet is to winning football games. The result is a first-of-its-kind metric that allows for cross-positional valuation and predicts future value at the player and team levels.

Williams' Wins Above Average (WAA) since 2021.

HOW WILLIAMS RANKS IN THE STABLE METRICS

The most stable facets of quarterback play are those with the biggest sample sizes — even though they intuitively seem “easier.” When projecting a quarterback’s future output, their performance from a clean pocket, on early downs and with no play action should be weighted heavily, and these are strong components when projecting PFF’s Wins Above Replacement metric. Good quarterbacks dominate these situations, while lesser quarterbacks rank near the bottom of the league. Negatively graded plays are also highly correlated from year to year, meaning the quarterback is largely in control of their negatives, while their positive plays may fluctuate due to supporting cast and playcalling.

Compared to other players with PFF college data, Williams' metrics in the most predictive of data subsets measure up well.

Caleb Williams' percentile ranks in the most stable passing stats since 2021.

While Williams' calling card has been his ability to create explosive plays when things break down, he has also been one of the class' best on standard dropbacks and from a clean pocket.

The USC signal-caller completed 220 of his 292 clean-pocket attempts for 2,908 (10.0 yards per attempt) and 22 touchdowns during his final year in college. He recorded just two turnover-worthy plays across those attempts, showing just how good his decision-making was when he was kept free from pressure.

WILLIAMS' PROJECTIONS

In league-average circumstances, here are Williams' projections for yards per attempt and completion percentage as a rookie.

Williams' rookie-year projections in a league-average scheme with a play-action rate of 25%, a pressure rate of 35%, a quick-throw rate (under 2.5 seconds) of 50% and a short-throw rate (before the sticks) of 63%.

Let’s look at how Williams does when we make his situation better. With a low pressure rate, high play-action rate and more down-the-field looks, things look very similar. 

Williams' 2024 projections in a situation where 25% of his dropbacks have pressure and he runs play action on 30% of his dropbacks.

Let’s also look at how he does when we make the situation less favorable. With a high pressure rate and low play-action rate, Williams' projections look extremely promising. Both of these marks would have ranked among the top eight at the position in 2023. 

Williams' 2024 projections in a situation where 40% of his dropbacks have pressure and he runs play action on just 15% of his dropbacks.

BOTTOM LINE FROM PFF's 2024 NFL DRAFT GUIDE

Williams is an incredibly talented player with natural gifts even other previous QB1s do not have. His issues are more from a lack of consistency than ability in any area.

This is a QB with franchise-changing talent that is worthy of a No. 1 overall selection.

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