More than once in the latter half of the 2023 college football regular season, Caleb Williams‘ mentality has been a topic of discussion among 2024 NFL Draft onlookers. Is it something to be concerned about as he makes the leap to the professional level?
Caleb Williams Declines To Speak to Media After UCLA Loss
The USC Trojans lost 38-20 to the UCLA Bruins in Week 12 of the college football season. The loss dropped USC to 7-5 on the year, effectively ending Williams’ final regular-season slate with the Trojans.
Williams finished the year with 266 completions on 388 attempts (68.6%) for 3,633 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and five interceptions, as well as 142 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground.
With a likely draft declaration on deck, there’s a chance that this was Williams’ last game of his collegiate career. Even if he does suit up in a bowl game, there’s very little else for him to play for.
Despite these facts, Williams declined to speak to the media after his final regular-season action at the collegiate level. That decision sparked criticism from some onlookers.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Rapoport said: “Joe Burrow learned his season was over on Friday, understood his responsibility, and went out and held a news conference. The job of a QB and face of the franchise.”
Rapoport’s comment directly implies that Williams sidestepped the duties of a franchise QB by declining to speak at a pivotal point in both his career and his team’s season.
Whether Rapoport’s comment was inspired by conversations with an ulteriorly motivated agent or by conversations with NFL scouts, there are implications, regardless of one’s opinion.
The fact of the matter is, if someone plugged in like Rapoport is making that comment, odds are that others in the football industry are having those thoughts as well. This comes after Williams drew ire some weeks before for crying after a tough loss to Oregon.
Is the criticism of Williams and his mentality warranted? And is there a chance it could have an effect on his 2024 NFL Draft stock, with a close challenger for QB1 in Drake Maye?
Should Williams’ ‘Off-Field Concerns’ Affect His 2024 NFL Draft Stock?
On the surface, the issue of Williams’ off-field concerns is a simple one. Either you think those off-field concerns exist, or they don’t.
But when you’re covering the NFL Draft — an event that serves as the conflux of 32 teams’ separate perspectives and class-wide evaluations — you need to be able to acknowledge different perspectives and take them into account.
Opinions are wide-ranging on what to think of Williams’ character. Specifically, his toughness and composure under media pressure have been questioned.
I’m of the mind that Williams’ perceived issues, in relation to his toughness and composure under pressure, are somewhat overblown. All you need to do is watch Williams compete and create on the field and give his all, to know that competitive toughness isn’t a concern.
I’m also of the mind that Williams’ avoidance of the media at the end of the season isn’t worthy of public criticism and a massive indictment, either. But as long as some teams and evaluators feel there may be an issue, it’s not something you can simply shrug off.
Evaluating QB character is incredibly complex. It’s not just about having the competitive toughness, confidence, and leadership ability. A quarterback can be a good person and a good leader but be lacking enough in other soft skills to turn teams away.
We’ve seen quarterbacks shrink under the bright NFL spotlight before. The media imprint of an NFL starting QB’s job can chip away at passers who aren’t equipped mentally to blot out the noise, hold themselves accountable, and communicate effectively with the press.
This isn’t at all to say Williams isn’t mentally equipped to handle this. His effusive success at the collegiate level, in and of itself, is a ringing endorsement. He never had the best roster — either at USC or Oklahoma — but he always played at a high level and kept his teams competitive.
Williams is confident. That much is clear when he does interviews. As talented as he is, he has every reason to be confident. But we’ve seen confidence devolve when circumstances change at the NFL level, and that mental swing can be hard to recover from.
When the meter turns, and it’s Williams’ turn to stand in front of the media after a tough loss, NFL evaluators will want to know if he can avoid controversy, preserve the team’s focus, and keep his own mental composure.
Those concerns, as irrational and unvalidated as they may be at this point, are real among NFL decision-makers, who are charged with mitigating risk just as much as acquiring franchise-changing talent. For that reason, they can’t be dismissed.
Teams in contention for the top quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft class may look at Maye on the other side of the aisle and see a QB who more closely exemplifies what they look for in a “face of the franchise” entity.
Whether that’s right or wrong, things like front-facing composure, mental fortitude, and focus can make a difference for personnel executives and coaches who will be working with these QBs day in and day out.
At the same time, there are no grounds to judge Williams’ mental fortitude off of a simple decision to decline media availability. And Williams doesn’t have to be that guy right now. Even if there are hiccups as he adjusts to the NFL spotlight, that’s okay.
Maybe Williams can improve at managing his more negative emotions and addressing the media. It’s okay to say that. He’s 22 years old. Once he joins an NFL franchise, Williams will have the infrastructure — both coaches and veterans — to support his development as a pro.
Williams doesn’t have to be the stoic media manager from Day 1 because his confidence is a major part of his game. That’s Caleb Williams — the QB who can make any play a defense fears is possible, and he knows it better than anyone.
If teams meet with Williams 1-on-1 and feel they can work with him, harness that confidence, and let him be himself while also maintaining his accountability, then there’s nothing to be worried about. But that’s work teams have to do on an individual basis, with exhaustive research and interviews.
Williams has always invited more volatility on the field than Maye. And some decision-makers may feel that he invites more volatility off of it as well.
Those concerns are real and valid. But the final judgments of Williams’ character, composure, and culture fit will happen behind closed doors — not on social media.
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