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Caleb Williams wrestles with the “completely backwards” nature of the draft

USC quarterback Caleb Williams will likely be the first pick in the 2024 draft. If he submits to the 2024 draft. He might decide to stay in school for another year, make NIL money, and see what happens in 2025.

Regardless, as the leap to the NFL approaches, Williams and his father are beginning to realize there’s something counterintuitive about the NFL draft.

“I’ve always been able to choose the team that I’ve played on, and then everything’s been scheduled for me,” Williams told Sam Schube of GQ. “But now, going into this next part of my career, it’s weird [because] 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.”

But he does have some control, beyond how he acts. His father, Carl, knows what it is. Caleb can skip the 2024 draft, if he doesn’t want to play for the team with the first pick.

“The funky thing about the NFL draft process is, he’d almost be better off not being drafted than being drafted first,” Carl Williams told Schube. “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.”

With the caveat, as Carl Williams said, that Caleb gets “two shots at the apple. . . . So if there’s not a good situation, the truth is, he can come back to school.”

But the situation in 2025 might not be any better, since once again the worst team will earn the top spot in the draft. So instead of running from it, why not take charge of it?

Caleb Williams has more control than he currently realizes. He can tell the team holding the first overall pick, “Don’t bother.” And he can back it up with action, refusing to sign a contract if the team holding the first pick takes him.

Many think that, five years after the Cardinals bottomed out for Kyler Murray, they’re hoping to do it again for Williams. Williams can tell them he won’t play for them. He can set terms as to what could get him to change his mind.

Far too rarely do great prospects take control of the draft process. John Elway did it 40 years ago. Eli Manning did it 20 years ago. Maybe it’s time for someone to do it again. Maybe it’s time for it to happen more frequently.

It needs to. That first stop for a player’s career, especially at quarterback, is critical. Would Patrick Mahomes have become Patrick Mahomes if he’d been drafted by the Browns in 2017? He benefited from slipping far enough for a great organization to spring up to get him.

Maybe someone will spring up to get Williams. Regardless, Williams needs to realize that should not just submit to the process. He has power. He has leverage. He has control, beyond the possibility of returning to USC for another season.