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History awaits? Bears' Caleb Williams looks to join select group of rookie QBs


CHICAGO — Caleb Williams acknowledged at the NFL combine he knew quite a bit about the makeup of the Chicago Bears, who owned the No. 1 overall draft pick on April 25.

“I mean, the Bears were an 8-9 team last year, I believe? Seven and 10, sorry,” Williams said in March. “That is pretty good for a team that has the first pick. And they got a good defense.

“They got good players on offense, and it’s pretty exciting if you can go into a situation like that.”

After getting the call from Bears general manager Ryan Poles — confirming Williams was the top pick — he revealed that underneath his navy blue suit was a custom shirt reading “Chicago” in orange gothic lettering on the back.

Williams’ landing spot will play a critical role in determining how quickly he can find success. Before bringing Williams into the fold, Poles added players who raised the Bears’ level of talent. That began with trading for wide receiver DJ Moore, who is coming off a career-best season, and defensive end Montez Sweat, who led the Bears with six sacks in 2023 despite playing in Chicago for eight games.

The overhaul continued this offseason when they added offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and a new scheme. The Bears also extended All-Pro cornerback Jaylon Johnson, traded for wide receiver Keenan Allen and signed Pro Bowl running back D’Andre Swift in free agency.

“The infrastructure has to be there, and I think we’ve done that part to have the talent around our quarterback now,” Poles said. “I think the other thing is our entire organization is going to have to be on the same page on how we handle this, how we develop Caleb.

“But I also say I think we have a really good approach with all of the players, and I think that’s maybe different than it was in the past.”

Williams is walking into an unusually favorable situation for a rookie quarterback, especially one taken with the No. 1 pick. The teams that drafted Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield and Trevor Lawrence — which were coming off two, zero and one win the prior seasons, respectively — are more typical for QBs going No. 1. But the Bears landed the pick because of a 2023 trade with the Carolina Panthers, who finished with a league-worst two wins.

But what are realistic expectations for Williams’ first season in Chicago? Only eight rookie QBs have posted double-digit wins since 1950 (two landed on teams that had won seven games the previous season). Sportsbooks aren’t convinced Williams will make it nine, as the over-under on Bears’ wins is 8.5, and they have the third-shortest odds to win the NFC North.

But most of the eight successful rookie quarterbacks also faced long odds and managed to succeed. Here’s a look at the rookie signal-callers who had double-digit wins, and one who fell just short last season while leading his team to the playoffs. They set the bar Williams is hoping to top.

Drafted by the Houston Texans: Round 1, No. 2 overall, 2023

Inherited: The Texans finished 3-13-1 in 2022 and featured Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Rookie season: Stroud started nine of Houston’s 10 wins and led the Texans to the postseason with a 10-7 record. Stroud also won a playoff game. He earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors by throwing for 4,108 yards, the third most by a rookie quarterback, while his 273.9 passing yards per game were the second most ever for a rookie and led the NFL. What’s most impressive was the production Stroud generated without star power around him (Nico Collins, Tank Dell and Dalton Schultz were his top weapons).

Bears reality: Like the Texans, the Bears overhauled their offensive staff from 2022 to sync up Williams’ development with his offensive coordinator. Chicago has more veteran talent surrounding its quarterback, from the offensive line to the backfield to the group of pass-catchers.


Drafted by the New England Patriots: Round 1, No. 15 overall, 2021

Inherited: The Patriots finished 7-9 in 2020 and the only players who earned awards were All-Pro/Pro Bowl punter Jake Bailey and Pro Bowl returner Gunner Olszewski.

Rookie season: Jones threw for 3,801 yards (13th), 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a balanced attack that featured two 800-yard wide receivers in Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne along with running back Damien Harris, who rushed for more than 900 yards.

New England also boasted the league’s No. 2 defense. Jones started all 10 of the Patriots’ wins and was the only New England player to be named to the Pro Bowl. The Patriots lost to the Bills in the wild-card round.


Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys: Round 4, No. 135 overall, 2016

Inherited: The Cowboys finished 4-12 in 2015 with three Pro Bowl offensive linemen: left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin.

Rookie season: Dallas went 13-3 with Prescott starting, the most wins by a rookie quarterback since the Pittsburgh Steelers won 13 with Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Prescott threw for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He set an NFL record with 176 passes without an interception to start his career.

The Cowboys won the NFC East and lost to the Packers in the divisional round. The offensive line catalyzed Prescott’s rookie season as Frederick and Martin started all 16 games while Smith started 13. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, whom the Cowboys drafted fourth overall in 2016, earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors after rushing for 1,631 yards and totaling 16 touchdowns. The Cowboys also boasted a top-five scoring defense and ranked No. 1 against the run.

Bears reality: Chicago reworked its offensive line by bringing in starting center Ryan Bates with quality depth behind him in Coleman Shelton. The Bears also used a third-round pick on Yale offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie, who the team believes has starting potential.

Chicago’s O-line isn’t as strong as Dallas’ was during Prescott’s rookie season, but the team believes the growth shown by right tackle Darnell Wright — a first-round pick in 2022 — and left guard Teven Jenkins should help this reworked unit take the next step.


Andrew Luck

Drafted by the Indianapolis Colts: Round 1, No. 1 overall, 2012

Inherited: The Colts finished 2-14 in 2011, and defensive end Dwight Freeney was their only player named to the Pro Bowl.

Rookie season: Luck set the NFL rookie passing record with 4,374 yards and started in each of the Colts’ 11 wins. He relied most heavily on receivers Reggie Wayne, who earned Pro Bowl honors with 1,355 yards and five touchdowns, and T.Y. Hilton, who led the Colts with seven TDs. Indianapolis achieved balance offensively with running back Vick Ballard, who had a team-high 814 rushing yards. The Colts made the playoffs but lost in the wild-card round.

Bears reality: Chicago has never had a quarterback pass for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns in a season. Luck crossed that first threshold as a rookie despite being sacked 41 times behind a struggling offensive line.

The upgrades the Bears have made to their starting front five, along with the replenished depth at tackle and guard, should have Williams in a better situation to operate than Luck was in as a rookie.


Drafted by the Seattle Seahawks: Round 3, No. 75 overall, 2012

Inherited: The Seahawks finished 7-9 in 2011, with Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and fullback Michael Robinson leading the way on offense, and Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner on defense.

Rookie season: Wilson beat out Matt Flynn for the starting QB job and tied the then-record for touchdown passes thrown by a rookie (26). Seattle’s 2012 draft class brought an influx of talent to a roster that would reach 11 wins and the divisional playoffs.

Seattle boasted six Pro Bowlers in 2012 and four All-Pro selections, including offensive linemen Russell Okung and Max Unger.

Bears reality: Chicago didn’t have as deep of a draft class this year as Seattle did in 2012, but the Bears will lean on WR Rome Odunze and punter Tory Taylor for immediate contributions.


Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens: Round 1, No. 18 overall, 2008

Inherited: The Ravens finished 5-11 in 2007, led by Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee and All-Pro safety Ed Reed.

Rookie season: Flacco threw for 2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns while running in two more scores, which earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. His top weapons were wide receiver Derek Mason, who had 1,037 receiving yards, and first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain.

Baltimore put together an 11-win season in 2008 and reached the AFC title game largely because of its defense. The Ravens allowed the third-fewest points per game (15.3), second-fewest yards per play (4.5) and fewest first downs per game (14.3).

Bears reality: The Ravens were similar to the Bears of the last decade as Chicago’s inconsistent quarterback play squandered contributions from solid defenses. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were named All-Pro players and Pro Bowlers in 2008 while Terrell Suggs and Brendon Ayanbadejo earned Pro Bowl honors.

Chicago’s defense returns two Pro Bowlers in Johnson and Sweat and was No. 1 in interception rate (3.57%) and rushing yards allowed per game (86.4). After acquiring Sweat at the trade deadline, the Bears ranked sixth in opponent passer rating, 16th in sack percentage, seventh in QB hits, 14th in pressure percentage and 10th on third down in Weeks 10-18.


Matt Ryan

Drafted by the Atlanta Falcons: Round 1, No. 3 overall, 2008

Inherited: The Falcons finished 4-12 in 2007 and had no Pro Bowlers.

Rookie season: The Falcons boasted a 1,000-yard rusher in Michael Turner, who earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, and a 1,000-yard receiver in Roddy White, who made the Pro Bowl.

Ryan’s favorite two weapons helped him lead Atlanta to become a top-10 offense, while the Falcons’ defense ranked 11th. Atlanta reached 11 wins and lost in the wild-card round.


Kyle Orton

Drafted by the Bears: Round 4, No. 106 overall, 2005

Inherited: The Bears finished 5-11 in 2004 with center Olin Kreutz being the lone Pro Bowl player.

Rookie season: The Bears’ offense relied heavily on their run game, which ranked ninth, during Orton’s rookie season. Orton ranked 33rd out of 34 starting quarterbacks in completion percentage (51.6%) and threw for 1,869 yards as a rookie.

Chicago’s No. 1-ranked defense carried the Bears to an NFC North title and 11 wins before the Bears lost in the divisional playoffs. Kreutz was the only Bears offensive player to be named to the Pro Bowl in 2005, while the defense featured All-Pro picks Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and sent the two linebackers plus Mike Brown, Nathan Vasher and Tommie Harris to the Pro Bowl.

Bears reality: The days of Bears teams looking like they did in 2005 should be over. Chicago enters the 2024 season with a defense that finished fifth in weighted DVOA but with an offense that should also be a strength. Chicago’s three projected starting wide receivers combined for 4,247 receiving yards in the NFL and college last season (DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, Rome Odunze).


Ben Roethlisberger

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers: Round 1, No. 11 overall, 2004

Inherited: The Steelers finished 6-10 in 2003 with Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Hines Ward and left guard Alan Faneca.

Rookie season: Roethlisberger won all 13 games he started as a rookie, which set an NFL record, and the 15-1 Steelers reached the AFC title game. He ranked fifth in passer rating (98.1) and threw for 2,631 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions with only 99 incompletions (196 of 295 passes completed). He was aided by the strong running back duo of Jerome Bettis, who became a Pro Bowler, and Duce Staley, who operated behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines (Faneca was named All-Pro for a third time in 2004). The Steelers’ defense allowed the fewest points and yards.

Bears reality: The Bears finished second in the league in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 141.1. Part of that was because of the passing game struggling and attempting the fifth-fewest passes in the league.

Swift, the running back the Bears signed to a three-year, $24.5 million contract, is coming off a Pro Bowl season with Philadelphia, where he rushed for 1,049 yards and totaled five TDs. Khalil Herbert finished second in rushing (611 yards) on the Bears last season behind quarterback Justin Fields (657).



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