Is Caleb Williams a “Generational” Prospect?

Caleb Williams is the favorite to be the number one overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and there have been many discussions about whether or not he is a "generational" prospect

UCLA v USC
UCLA v USC / Ryan Kang/GettyImages
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The 2024 NFL Draft is a little over two months away and like most drafts over the years, there are multiple quarterback prospects expected to be drafted within the first three picks. This includes North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels. However, the golden ticket of the draft appears to be USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

During his incredible collegiate career that saw him win the Heisman trophy in 2022, Williams became a highly touted NFL prospect with many analysts calling him one of the best quarterback prospects in recent memory. Former Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman even called him a generational talent.

Over the last couple of months, there have been a lot of discussions regarding whether or not Caleb Williams is a generational prospect. Is he truly one of the best prospects we’ve ever seen? Let’s break down just how good Caleb Williams is as a prospect and the issues with giving prospects the “generational” label.

Caleb Williams had a special college career

In 2021, Caleb Williams arrived at Oklahoma University as a five-star recruit and the second-best quarterback recruit in the country according to On3. Unfortunately, the Sooners already had a star quarterback in Spencer Rattler, so Williams was going to have to wait for his turn.

He didn’t have to wait long, though. Rattler had an up-and-down start to the season heading into a huge rivalry game vs. the Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma had a slow start to this game and was down 28-7 in the second quarter. At this point, head coach Lincoln Riley put Caleb Williams in the game and he was great, throwing for over 200 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters as Oklahoma won 55-48.

After this game, Williams became Oklahoma’s starting quarterback and he had a great season, completing 64.2% of his passes and throwing for 1,912 yards, 21 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ranked fourth in the nation in QBR with a mark of 86.5. His performance as a 19-year-old freshman was incredible and he was already one of the best quarterbacks in college football.

During the offseason, Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to join USC’s staff as their head coach. Caleb Williams joined his coach, entering the transfer portal and heading to USC as well. In his first season with the Trojans in 2022, Williams completed 66.5% of his passes and threw for 4,539 yards, 42 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He also added 624 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground as he won the Heisman award.

Unfortunately, his production worsened a bit the next season in 2023 as he completed 68% of his passes for 3,647 yards, 30 touchdowns, and five interceptions while rushing for 356 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had a great season, but it wasn’t quite as good as his sophomore season and there were some red flags in his production which we’ll take a closer look at in a little bit.

Overall, Caleb Williams had a terrific college career. His production didn’t quite reach the heights we’ve seen from other first-round picks in recent memory like Joe Burrow, but he was elite the second he entered the college football world. He had a PFF grade of 90+ in each of his three seasons which is extremely rare. The only other quarterback prospects since 2017 to have three seasons with a PFF grade of 90+ were Trevor Lawrence and Baker Mayfield.

Based on these numbers, it’s clear to see why he became such a popular name among NFL Draft pundits. These numbers only scratch the surface of who Caleb Williams is as a player, so let’s dive into what makes him such a good prospect.

Caleb Williams is a polished playmaker with a huge arm

Caleb William’s best qualities are his physical tools and ability to create big plays outside of structure. When you watch him play, his arm strength pops off the screen. He is a bit small as he is listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds according to PFF. However, he throws the ball with great velocity and he can make throws that other quarterbacks can’t because he is aggressive and not afraid to attempt difficult throws on the move.

Williams’ affinity for making big plays shows up in his statistical profile. His career big-time throw rate of 6.2% and career average depth of target of 9.9 yards are both above average and his average time to throw of 3.27 seconds is astronomically high. These three metrics show that Williams likes to hold onto the ball so he can throw the ball down the field and generate big plays.

He’s also a strong rusher who can make plays with his legs. He averaged 41.6 rushing yards per game across his entire college career, more than Josh Allen averaged during his time at Wyoming. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry, a great mark for someone who runs as much as he does.

While Williams is known for being an elite playmaker outside of structure, he’s also a very polished passer. He is an accurate thrower who has consistently put up great accuracy rates throughout his college career. Also, In 2022, he put up elite PFF grades under pressure and on intermediate throws, two areas that are extremely important for quarterback prospects.

Another strength of his is his ability to maneuver within the pocket. He is extremely agile and he does a great job of avoiding pass rushers while under pressure. This is why his pressure-to-sack rate was just 16% in 2022, despite facing pressure on almost 32% of his dropbacks.

Caleb Williams is a great prospect who was consistently dominant in college and has the traits to be an elite quarterback in the NFL. However, he isn’t perfect and there are reasons to be concerned with his profile. Let’s dive into his biggest weaknesses as a prospect.

Caleb Williams took a step back in 2023

After the 2022 season, Caleb Williams looked like an all-time great prospect. He was coming off of a wildly productive season in which he put up incredible numbers across the board. If he would’ve improved in 2023, there would’ve been zero questions about him being the number-one pick. Unfortunately, that did not happen and he struggled at times during his junior season.

In 2023, Caleb Williams had a productive year but there were some warts with his statistical profile. The three areas where he struggled the most were decision-making, sack avoidance, and performing under pressure.

This past season, he had a turnover-worthy play rate of 3.6%, by far the worst mark of his career. His interception total was really good, but he actually put the ball in harm's way a lot. He just got a bit lucky in this department.

Not only did he struggle to make good decisions at times, he also took a lot of sacks. His pressure-to-sack rate was 23.2%, which is extremely high. In fact, this number was so poor that you have to be concerned to some degree about Williiams’ ability to translate to the next level. Prospects who take sacks while under pressure at such a high rate during their final college season rarely work out in the NFL.

The issues don’t stop there, though. To make things even worse, Williams also performed poorly under pressure, recording a PFF grade of 41.6 in these situations. Every quarterback performs worse under pressure, but elite quarterback prospects usually don’t struggle this much when the pocket isn’t clean. This is another glaring issue with Williams’ statistical profile for the 2023 season.

Luckily, he didn’t play just one season in college. He played three seasons and he was amazing for a vast majority of his snaps in college. He also played at an extremely high level in 2022 and his career stats are really good across the board. This, along with the fact that USC didn’t have a great roster on either side of the ball this past season, gives us reason to believe that Caleb Wiilliams’ struggles shouldn’t be a death sentence for him.

Now let’s answer the biggest question that has been on everyone’s mind for the last couple of months: is Caleb Williams a generational prospect?

Caleb Williams: Generational prospect or vastly overrated?

It is fair to wonder if Caleb Williams is a generational prospect. However, you first have to determine what this label actually means. A literal interpretation would mean that he is so good that he would typically be the best quarterback prospect of this generation. This would mean he is better or at least on par with elite prospects like Trevor Lawrence and Andrew Luck.

However, it seems that most people don’t think he is a better prospect than Lawrence and Luck and that’s probably correct. He is extremely talented and is definitely one of the best quarterback prospects we’ve seen over the last couple of years, but I’m not sure he is one of the best prospects of all time.

This is totally fine by the way. It’s ok if Caleb Williams isn’t a generational prospect. He doesn’t have to be one of the best players we’ve ever seen to be worth the number-one overall pick. Also, the expectations that come with being called a generational prospect are unfair for a guy who is just 22 years old and has a few issues he needs to work on. Giving him this label will only lead to fans being impatient and giving him harsh criticism when he inevitably struggles early on in his NFL and that is not fair.

When you look at Caleb Williams’s film and production and consider how he was consistently dominant starting at a young age, it’s clear that we’re looking at an elite quarterback prospect who would be the first pick in 99% of drafts. Even with his flaws, he is a special player who has the potential to be a wonderful player in the NFL.

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