It's never too early to start thinking about the NFL Draft, especially when the Chicago Bears are almost assured of having the top pick for the second year in a row.
General Manager Ryan Poles has kept his cards close to the vest when it comes to his intentions with that coveted pick, even as Bears fans have vociferously argued both sides of the Justin Fields/Caleb Williams debate.
The question of whether to build around Fields or start fresh with Williams is more complex than simply which quarterback is better. The rookie contract of Williams would be much cheaper than signing Fields to an extension, but at the same time, it would begin a fresh four-year commitment to a new quarterback whose NFL readiness can't really be known until he steps on the field.
The Bears can keep Fields for another year before fully committing to him in the long-term, which would open the possibility of drafting his replacement in 2025 if things didn't work out or pursuing a trade or free agent.
There's also the question of value. Keeping Fields would allow the Bears to trade the #1 pick, and history suggests they would get a king's ransom from any number of teams that are currently trapped in quarterback hell. Likewise, drafting Williams would necessitate trading Fields, and while the return from that deal wouldn't be nearly as great, it still needs to be factored in. Would Ryan Poles rather have Justin Fields and, say, three first round picks (possibly more), or would he rather have Caleb Williams and, say, a second-rounder for Fields?
It's a question without an easy answer, and that's why Bears fans are reading so much into every little thing they see from Fields, Williams, and Poles.
Williams' USC Trojans ended their season Wednesday night in the Holiday Bowl, and while Williams made the unsurprising and understandable business decision to opt out of the game, what actually took place on the field without him could affect, ever so slightly, Poles' and the rest of the league's opinion on Williams as a can't-miss prospect.
Redshirt sophomore Miller Moss got the starting nod for the Trojans with Williams on the sideline, and he absolutely torched a Louisville defense that has had a tremendous season. Moss ended the night with a Holiday Bowl-record six passing touchdowns while throwing for 372 yards and just one interception, resulting in a near-perfect 98.1 QBR.
The fact that USC's offense moved so effortlessly with Miller Moss in place of Caleb Williams is alarming.
College football fans may recall that Louisville faced another backup quarterback in its last game, a 16-6 ACC Championship loss to Florida State that was such an ugly rock fight that it kept the Seminoles out of the College Football Playoff, even though they won to remain undefeated.
The Cardinals dominated Seminoles' third-stringer Brock Glenn, who was playing in place of Heisman hopeful Jordan Travis. Travis was out for the year with a serious ankle injury, and backup Tate Rodemaker also missed the ACC Championship after suffering a concussion the week before. Still, Louisville held Glenn to just 55 yards on 8/21 passing and a paltry 11.7 QBR, and they would have won had their offense not been similarly dominated by an excellent Seminoles defensive unit.
Of course, just like the Fields versus Williams discussion, we must acknowledge that everything here isn't simply apples to apples. Moss had a month to prepare for the Holiday Bowl, while Glenn had less than a week to get ready for the ACC Championship. On the other hand, USC was missing more than just Williams from its offense, as leading rusher, MarShawn Lloyd and one of its top receivers, Brenden Rice, also opted out of the game.
USC coach Lincoln Riley has made a name for himself as a quarterback guru. In addition to Caleb Williams, his offense has also helped Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray win the Heisman, and he helped reinvigorate Jalen Hurts' career after the former Alabama quarterback transferred to Oklahoma in the wake of Tua Tagovailoa taking his starting job.
Hurts has been one of the best quarterbacks in football since winning the Philadelphia Eagles' job, while Mayfield and Murray were both #1 picks who have had varying levels of success in the NFL. It wouldn't be fair to call either a bust, but they also haven't lived up to the expectations of being a #1 overall pick.
Where does that leave Williams? He is certainly the most hyped of Riley's quarterbacks to come out of college, often drawing comparisons to Patrick Mahomes for his inventiveness and big-play ability. Should Ryan Poles be worried, though, that everyone thrives in Riley's system? Like Mayfield and Murray, could Williams be good but not great in the NFL?
There are certainly drawbacks to Williams as a prospect. He holds the ball an incredibly long time, which can work against many college defenses (though notably, Williams had his worst games against Notre Dame and Utah, arguably the two best defenses he faced this year), but will get you killed in the pros. He's also 6'1", which isn't a dealbreaker, but it's also less than ideal for someone that is the consensus #1 pick.
There are many factors that Ryan Poles will consider when evaluating his decision at the top of the draft, and at the end of the day, Miller Moss lighting up Louisville won't rank very high on the list when it comes time to choose between Caleb Williams and Justin Fields. As Al Pacino said in Any Given Sunday, though, football is a game of inches. Every little bit counts.