Why Caleb Williams could stay at USC another year even if he would be the No. 1 NFL Draft pick

Name, image and likeness rules mean Williams wouldn’t be choosing between NFL millions and just tuition, room and board courtesy of the NCAA.

Quarterback Caleb Williams is just two (relatively easy) games into the USC season but his stats pop out — 73.5 completion percentage, nine touchdowns, zero interceptions. Scouts are already comparing him to Patrick Mahomes.

In other words, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is still on track to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Maybe North Carolina’s Drake Maye slips past him for the top spot, but at this point, there won’t be much of a mystery for Williams next spring.

This looks like a franchise quarterback.

Yet, does he want to quarterback for just any old franchise?

Williams’ father, Carl, told GQ that concern over his son going to a dysfunctional organization is great enough that, should the draft order play out a certain way, Caleb will consider returning to USC for his senior year and hoping for a better fit with the 2025 NFL Draft.

“He’s got two shots at the apple,” Carl told the magazine. “So if there’s not a good situation, the truth is, he can come back to school.”

We’ve heard this kind of talk before and it’s mostly been a bluff. This is 2023, though, and due to name, image and likeness rules, Williams wouldn’t be choosing between NFL millions and just tuition, room and board courtesy of the NCAA.

He could just continue to make millions playing college ball.

Williams currently has endorsement deals with Fanatics, Neutrogena, Beats by Dre, PlayStation, Athletic Brewing Company and AC+ION Water. He also appears in national television commercials for Nissan’s Heisman House and Dr. Pepper’s Fansville.

And that's just what we know about. Due to the loose nature of NIL rules, let alone the enforcement of any NCAA statutes, USC backers could easily pour more money into their quarterback if they got another season out of him.

It remains highly unlikely Williams would delay entry to the NFL, especially as a top-two pick. The decision making process is certainly altered though. College basketball has seen multiple stars return for another season citing NIL opportunities. Of course, they were not No. 1 overall selections.

The Williamses are looking long term, though.

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams gestures after winning an NCAA college football game against Nevada, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
USC quarterback Caleb Williams gestures after beating Nevada to lead the Trojans to a 2-0 start. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Carolina’s Bryce Young received a four-year deal worth about $38 million as the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The real big money, however, is in the second quarterback contract. After just three seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert agreed to a five-year deal that could total $262.5 million.

To get to that level though, a player needs a good situation.

“The funky thing about the NFL Draft process is, [Caleb would] almost be better off not being drafted than being drafted first,” Carl Williams said. “The system is completely backwards. The way the system is constructed, you go to the worst possible situation. The worst possible team, the worst organization in the league — because of their desire for parity — gets the first pick. So it’s the gift and the curse.

“I mean, I’ve talked to Archie Manning," he continued. “His career was shot because he went to a horrible organization. I’ve talked to Lincoln [Riley], and Kyler [Murray] struggled because of where he was drafted. Baker [Mayfield] struggled mightily because of where he was drafted. The organizations matter.”

Worth noting: Kyler Murray was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, who at just 4.5 victories is by far the BetMGM favorite to post the worst record in the league and thus get the No. 1 pick in the 2024 Draft.

Murray came out of Oklahoma, where he was coached by Riley. Caleb Williams played his freshman season at OU before following Riley to USC. They all know the situation.

Again, the chances that the No. 1 overall pick would stay in school are remote, but this is enough for the Cardinals to be concerned anyway.

“I’ve always been able to choose the team that I’ve played on,” Caleb Williams said. “... But now, going into this next part of my career, it’s weird ’cause it’s so uncertain. You don’t know anything. You can’t control anything but you and how you act. That’s honestly the weirdest part for me, is the uncertainty.”

The draft is an unusual way to enter the workforce. None of Williams' non-athlete classmates at USC will be told what company they have to go to in their chosen industry, let alone what city.

That’s how professional sports works, though. The job pays well. You deal with it.

College football pays pretty well, too, these days, which may make for an interesting draft decision.