Fantasy Football: Why Caleb Williams could star right away (2024)

  • Fantasy Football: Why Caleb Williams could star right away (1)

    Eric Karabell, ESPN Senior WriterJul 3, 2024, 08:00 AM ET


    • ESPN contributor on TV, radio, podcasts, blogs, Magazine
    • Charter member of FSWA Hall of Fame
    • Author of "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments"

The Carolina Panthers made QB Bryce Young the first pick in the 2023 NFL draft, but the organization hardly placed the Alabama star in the best position to initially thrive, at least statistically. The Panthers, coming off a 7-10 season in 2022, thought it was a good idea to rely on former Philadelphia Eagles RB Miles Sanders, and the receiving corps lacked depth outside of 33-year-old former Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Thielen. The Panthers averaged a paltry 13.9 points per game and won only twice, as their touted quarterback struggled.

The Chicago Bears watched this drama unfold with relative glee, since they had acquired Carolina's No. 1 overall pick in the deal that made Young a Panther. The Bears made QB Caleb Williams that first pick in the 2024 NFL draft, and the organization has placed the USC star in a considerably stronger position to succeed.

Running back D'Andre Swift, another former Eagle but with different skills that do not demand the top offensive line in the sport, augments the team's position with holdovers Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert. Former Los Angeles Chargers WR star Keenan Allen, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, joins accomplished DJ Moore and exciting first-round pick Rome Odunze. Cole Kmet is a productive tight end.

Despite each franchise relying on a No. 1 pick QB, the 2024 Bears look nothing like the 2023 Panthers. That is for sure. In fact, one could note the 2024 Bears look nothing like, well, just about any Bears team before them, and this franchise birthed long before Tom Brady did. Nary a Bears quarterback has ever thrown for 4,000 passing yards (the lone NFL franchise featuring this ignominy), nor has any had 30 touchdown passes. Imagine that! In this unique case, perhaps causation does equal correlation. Only 13 Bears individuals have surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Jerry Rice alone achieved that more often. Allen has done it six times!

This does not mean Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, is assured of historic numbers and fantasy dominance in his debut season, but there is incredible talent surrounding him, and it is becoming difficult to envision Williams failing. There is ample pressure, of course, but Williams can allow his playmakers to handle the proverbial heavy lifting, and they should do exactly that. Get them the football, this offense should thrive. Oh, what Chargers QB Justin Herbert would do for this crew!

The question for fantasy managers is will it thrive enough for Williams to become an instant statistical hit, perhaps even a QB1.

Well, it certainly seems plausible, and fantasy managers should be open to the possibility, even when it comes to rookies, who more often than not serve to break out hearts.

Fantasy managers certainly can win their leagues by quickly investing in Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, Eagles star Jalen Hurts or Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen. These players are proven statistical monsters, early-round choices, and they will likely thrive again. Early QB picks, of course, come at the expense of available running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. Fantasy managers can win their leagues by ignoring top passers in the early draft rounds, piling on those running backs and wide receivers -- flex-eligible choices -- because depth runs out sooner there. There is no one way to win a league.

Rookies are inherently dangerous to rely on, regardless of position, for fantasy managers and for NFL coaches. But Williams does offer a certain pedigree most young passers cannot match. For example, do not compare him to former Bears first-round pick QB Justin Fields, now hoping to play with the Pittsburgh Steelers. These are different players with different skill sets. Fields is a significant running option. Williams has an elite arm, blessed with velocity and accuracy on short passes and down the field, both in the pocket and while on the move. He is mobile, coachable and he shouldn't be overwhelmed at the NFL level. He also has considerably better options around him than Fields ever did.

Some fantasy managers will simply not want to invest in Williams, citing Young's struggles from recent memory, but 2023 No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud had no such issues. The Houston Texans hardly lacked playmakers, with WRs Nico Collins and Tank Dell aiding TE Dalton Schultz and RB Devin Singletary. Would you rather have that group or Swift, Allen, Moore, Odunze and Kmet, who caught 73 passes and six touchdowns from Fields and Tyson Bagent? Moore and Kmet caught 169 passes. The rest of the roster caught 152. Stroud finished as a QB1. Williams is capable of doing this, too, though nobody should expect it.

New Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is a smart and lucky man, as he gets to mold what should be an exciting, talented offense. Bears fans would take competence, at this point. Allen caught 108 passes last season. Odunze caught 92 footballs at Washington, scoring 14 total touchdowns. Moore and Swift and Kmet are so talented. Waldron is going to have Williams prepared to lead this offense. We can only wonder how Young would fare with it.

Some of this, admittedly, comes down to each manager's fantasy league structure and strategy. In ESPN standard, 10-team formats, managers investing in one of the top quarterbacks certainly should be more open to taking a chance if they select a second quarterback. Williams and Washington Commanders rookie QB Jayden Daniels, the No. 2 draft pick, scream upside as athletic playmakers. Mahomes managers probably do not need a backup QB until the bye week, but they should certainly take a chance on upside, rather than going the typical Aaron Rodgers/Kirk Cousins route.

Carolina's Young should be a solid NFL quarterback, and we cannot blame all his rookie troubles on the fellows surrounding him. Young completed 59.8% of his passes for fewer than 200 passing yards per game. He had 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Williams should blow by these numbers, not that anyone thinks otherwise. Whether Williams belongs with the Rodgers/Cousins tier, ahead of proven veterans such as the Chargers' Herbert, Jacksonville Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence and San Francisco 49ers' Brock Purdy, is another issue. We know those quarterbacks. There have been injuries, statistical failures, etc. We don't know Williams... not for sure.

Ultimately, Williams has not failed yet at the NFL level, tempting some fantasy managers to believe in his rare skills, and note the excellent supporting cast. This may not be reflected in current ADP figures, because myriad others just want no part of a rookie passer. Be open-minded. There are more than 10 NFL quarterbacks eminently prepared to lead your fantasy roster, and Williams might just be one of them.

Fantasy Football: Why Caleb Williams could star right away (2024)


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