NFL offseason power rankings: No. 16 Chicago Bears hype is more than just Caleb Williams

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The excitement for the Chicago Bears is about more than just the arrival of Caleb Williams, though we'll get to him shortly.

The Bears were pretty good late last season. They started 2-7 and it seemed the only reason Matt Eberflus would survive the rest of the year is the Bears seem weirdly nostalgic about the fact that they've never fired a head coach during a season. But the Bears got hot after that and they saved Eberflus' job in the process. Nobody seemed to pay enough attention to how good the Bears were down the stretch.

The Bears went 5-3 in the second half and the only losses were on the road to playoff teams: at the Lions, at the Browns and at the Packers. All three losses were competitive. The Bears led the Lions and Browns with less than four minutes remaining in each of those games. They lost a competitive 17-9 game to a Packers team playing for a playoff spot in Week 18. At the end of the 2022 season the Lions won a Week 18 game at Green Bay in a similar situation and went into the offseason with a ton of buzz. The Bears' buzz would have been louder, maybe equal to the 2023 Lions, had they beaten the Packers in the finale. As is, there's still plenty of excitement for what's to come in Chicago. The Bears got three prime-time games, a standalone game in London and a matchup against the Lions on Thanksgiving. They'll be the featured team on HBO's "Hard Knocks" during training camp.

There wasn't a lot of hope in Chicago before the second half of last season. It was a slow rebuild with three straight seasons of double-digit losses. Suddenly there was reason for optimism. And one of the best trades in the NFL in many years continued to pay off big.

The focus of a big Panthers-Bears trade a year ago is how badly Carolina botched it. The Bears traded the first overall pick to Carolina, who selected Bryce Young. Maybe we should focus more on the Bears side of it, because it was a heist. We reviewed what the Panthers gave up in the trade in their preview, but here's what the Bears got:

• No. 9 overall draft pick in 2023, which Chicago moved for the No. 10 pick of the draft (offensive tackle Darnell Wright) and 2024 fourth-round pick (punter Tory Taylor)

• WR DJ Moore, whose 1,364 receiving yards were fourth most in team history for a single season

• 2023 second-round pick that the Bears used to move up to get CB Tyrique Stevenson, who started 16 games as a rookie

• 2024 first-round pick, which was No. 1 overall and used on Williams

• 2025 second-round pick

It's not outrageous to wonder if we'll look back at that trade in a few years and compare it to the Herschel Walker trade, which is famous for helping to start the Cowboys' dynasty.

The Bears have tried and tried to find a quarterback. Justin Fields had his moments, but the fact that no team was willing to trade the Bears more than a sixth-round pick for him is telling. In the end, the decision to move on from Fields and draft Williams was an easy one. Williams is a Heisman Trophy winner and considered an elite prospect. Even if Fields develops with the Pittsburgh Steelers, changing course right before a decision had to be made on Fields' second contract was the obvious move.

Unlike some other quarterbacks who go No. 1 overall, Williams lands in a good situation. The Bears finished last season on the upswing. They stole Moore in that Panthers trade, then traded for Keenan Allen and drafted Rome Odunze ninth overall. The Bears went from one of the worst receiver rooms in the NFL to potentially the best in two offseasons. The line, due in part to drafting Wright, is improving though there is still some work to do. The running game will be helped by free agent addition D'Andre Swift. This isn't David Carr getting sacked 76 times as a rookie or Bryce Young flailing around on a terrible 2023 Panthers team. Williams might not thrive as a rookie because playing quarterback in the NFL is really hard, but he's not set up to fail like other rookie QBs.

It's easy to take that finish last season for the Bears and dream about how much better it will be with Williams, Allen, Odunze, Swift and others. Maybe the defense won't match the offense, Eberflus isn't as good as he was in the second half last season, Williams isn't a huge hit right away or anything else that can derail a season for a team that lost 10 games a year ago. But there is a different energy about the Bears, particularly at quarterback, than there has been in a long time.

Offseason grade

The Bears had the second-best collection of grades from the NFL Draft, behind the Steelers, and it's fairly ridiculous they weren't No. 1. The Steelers drafting some offensive linemen is really better than landing Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze in the same draft? Stop it. Williams was a pretty clear No. 1 overall pick, even in a stacked quarterback class. The Bears should thank the Falcons for using the No. 8 pick on Michael Penix Jr., because that was a reason Odunze fell to No. 9. Chicago couldn't have banked on a receiver prospect like Odunze falling to them, but adding the Washington star to a receiver group with Keenan Allen and D.J. Moore is exciting.

Yahoo Sports' Matt Harmon said: "Ultimately, I ended up slotting Marvin Harrison Jr. as the class's top wide receiver, but that came after a long internal debate between him and Rome Odunze."

He's that good. So was the Bears' draft. The third-round pick of Yale offensive tackle Kiran Amegadjie could be a strong one too if Amegadjie heals after surgery on a partially torn quad muscle. The second-round pick was used during last season to land pass rusher Montez Sweat in a trade, and while that isn't officially counted in this grade, it was an impactful addition. In free agency, the Bears added running back D'Andre Swift, safety Kevin Byard, tight end Gerald Everett and safety Jonathan Owens. They also acquired Allen for a fourth-round pick in a trade with the Chargers. Chicago ended up signing top cornerback Jaylon Johnson to a four-year, $76 million extension after some angst between Johnson and the team as he sought a new deal. The Bears might have paid too much for Swift (three years, $24 million), but they had the cap room to splurge.

The Bears did lose receiver Darnell Mooney and cut offensive lineman Cody Whitehair and safety Eddie Jackson, but they should overcome those losses. Getting just a sixth-round pick for Justin Fields in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers was disappointing after the Bears misread the market on Fields, but that doesn't dampen a great offseason.

Grade: A

Quarterback report

Nobody should be compared to Patrick Mahomes. That's especially true for a rookie who has never thrown an NFL pass. But when you watch Caleb Williams' most outlandish highlights, the only other time you see similar plays is on Sundays from the guy in the No. 15 Chiefs jersey.

Williams' ability to extend plays and make ridiculous throws off platform is rare. The knock on Williams became that he might not be able to operate within structure, but Yahoo Sports' Nate Tice shot down that notion:

"This creativity is also the aspect of Williams' game that leads people to overlook his other attributes and the overall soundness of his game. The thing with Williams, and really the lesson that people have been missing with any lofty comparison to Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, is that Williams is a strong operator from within the structure of the offense. When Williams is comfortable with the concept and actually given time to be a quarterback, you get to see his arm creativity, polished footwork and the consistent rhythm in which he operates."

Big-time prospects do fail. There are too many variables associated with playing quarterback in the NFL to have a sure thing. But there's no clear fatal flaw with Williams' game. Chicago, you should finally have your franchise quarterback.

BetMGM odds breakdown

The Bears have famously never had a 4,000-yard passing season. They have also never had a quarterback win a major award. Not an MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year or even Comeback Player of the Year. Caleb Williams can change that. He's a huge favorite to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, with +125 odds at BetMGM. As of late April, 41.6% of the money bet on NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was on Williams.

There are also some very optimistic Williams bettors, as Williams is BetMGM's biggest liability in the MVP market. He has 80-to-1 odds. There are plenty of bettors who aren't sold on the Bears as a team, however. The team that has gotten the most bets to miss the playoffs at BetMGM is Chicago. The Bears are -125 odds to make the playoffs and +105 to miss the postseason. The Bears have a win total of 8.5.

Yahoo's fantasy take

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Keenan Allen didn't show much slippage in his age-31 season, with efficiency metrics that were right around his career averages. But the Chargers forced the ball to Allen constantly — he commanded 11.5 targets per game — and it's unlikely the Bears will give him similar volume.

"Chicago's passing game has plenty of talent, but there's also a crowding issue. DJ Moore is coming off a breakthrough year, setting career bests for catches, yards and touchdowns. Cole Kmet has been a top-10 fantasy tight end for two straight years, and rookie wideout Rome Odunze was the ninth overall pick in the draft. Rookie quarterback Caleb Williams is the winner in all this, as he's stepping into an unusually deep offense for a player drafted first overall. Who Williams clicks with the quickest is anyone's guess.

"And keep in mind the Bears don't need Williams to immediately carry the team, given how well the Chicago defense played in the second half of last year. Perhaps the initial offensive game plans will err on the conservative side. Allen's ADP is in a reasonable pocket through early Yahoo drafts (WR30), but given his age and change of address, he's not someone I'll be selecting proactively."

Stat to remember

It's hard for a midseason addition to transform a defense, but the Bears changed after trading for defensive end Montez Sweat. Bears coach Matt Eberflus took to calling it the "Tez effect." From the moment the Bears traded for Sweat to the end of the season, they improved from 28th to 20th in points allowed, 23rd to 12th in yards allowed and from 22nd to fifth in takeaways, via the Chicago Sun-Times. The Bears allowed 27.3 points in the eight games before the trade for Sweat and 17.9 in the nine games after it. Chicago had 10 sacks without Sweat (five of them came in one game against Washington) and 20 after he arrived. Sweat wasn't exactly prime Reggie White, with 25 tackles and six sacks in nine games, but the Bears benefited from having a legit pass rusher on the defense.

The Bears got a great season from cornerback Jaylon Johnson, linebackers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds played well, and safety Jaquan Brisker continues to develop. But Sweat, who signed a four-year, $98 million deal after he was acquired by Chicago, is the new centerpiece of the defense. The Bears still lack a good pass rusher on the line opposite Sweat, but it's not like the Bears' rebuild is complete. Getting a running mate for Sweat will be one of the next projects. But as the Bears saw right away, having one top pass rusher like Sweat can make a big difference.

Burning question

How will the Bears' skill positions shake out? 

A couple of years ago, the Bears had hardly any skill-position talent. Now there's the problem of having only one football to share among all their stars.

At running back, the Bears already had two interesting young players in Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert. Then they spent $24 million over three years on D'Andre Swift right away in free agency. It was an overpay, but the Bears had the cap space to do it. Swift had a good season with the Eagles, rushing for 1,049 yards with a 4.6-yard average. He is also capable as a receiver. The Bears didn't pay Swift to sit behind Johnson or Herbert, but Swift has issues with inconsistency. That's a reason the Lions gave up on him. Then last season with Philadelphia, Swift rushed for 305 yards in the second and third games of the season and didn't rush for 100 yards in a game after that. Based on the money Swift got from the Bears, he should be the clear RB1 even with two talented backups. His challenge will be putting a full season together.

The Bears have a crowd at receiver. D.J. Moore was one of the NFL's best receivers last season. Keenan Allen had 108 catches for 1,243 yards in just 13 games for the Chargers. Rome Odunze became a top-10 pick with a 1,100%-yard final season at Washington. And on top of that, the Bears have two capable tight ends in Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett. Moore is the likely target leader, but Allen should get plenty too even if he falls well short of 100 catches. Odunze has top-end talent but presumably will be the clear third option in the passing game, at least right away. These are good problems for Chicago to have.

Best-case scenario

C.J. Stroud and the impact he made on the Houston Texans as a rookie is rare, but Caleb Williams was a more hyped prospect than Stroud was. It wouldn't surprise anyone if Williams had a rookie season like Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Stroud or a few others who hit the ground sprinting. In 2012, Luck threw for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns as a rookie after being the first overall pick and the Colts made the playoffs. Williams could do that too, especially with the cast he has around him. It's even easier to imagine the Bears having that kind of a season if the defense maintains its level from the second half of last season after it added Montez Sweat. The Lions look very good, the Packers are formidable as well, but don't discount Chicago's chances of winning the division. The Bears led the Lions 26-14 with three minutes remaining in Week 11 last season and if they had just held that lead — Detroit scored the game-winner with 29 seconds left — they'd have swept a Detroit team everyone believes can win the Super Bowl this season. Sometimes teams we think are still in their rebuilding phase come along fast.

Nightmare scenario

Nobody has a great reason to predict Caleb Williams will be a bust, but it happens. Until you see a player do it on an NFL field there is no sure thing, even for an elite prospect like Williams. It's also worth wondering how Williams will mesh with the Bears, many of whom were fully supportive of Justin Fields returning to the team in 2024. There was also plenty of pre-draft noise about Williams, including him perhaps not wanting to play for Chicago, that has been forgotten. Even if Williams doesn't have a terrible rookie season, maybe we're a little too high on a team that lost 10 games last season. They were 2-7 to start last season for a reason. There are still holes on the offensive line and defense, and are we positive Matt Eberflus is the right coach for the job? Plenty of teams and rookies don't live up to offseason hype. It would be a pretty big letdown if there's another double-digit loss season for Chicago and devastating if Williams is just another in a long, long line of disappointing Bears quarterbacks.

The crystal ball says ... 

If the Bears didn't have the first overall pick of the NFL Draft and they ran it back with Justin Fields, they'd still be a fun pick to make the playoffs. Chicago was one of the NFL's best non-playoff teams in the second half of last season. Caleb Williams should be an upgrade over Fields. It's not the cleanest comparison, but a team probably would have given the Bears more for Williams than they got in the monster Bryce Young trade, and all Fields fetched was a sixth-round pick. Williams will be pretty good right away, the Bears will find a way into the playoffs and they can start dreaming of a future that includes them being Super Bowl contenders for a while.

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