Ryan Poles Reveals When Bears Made Decision on Caleb Williams

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Getty Bears rookie quarterback Caleb Williams.

The Chicago Bears have finally confirmed when they knew they would draft quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft — but their timeline might not align with the outside perception of the decision.

During his April 25 press conference following the first round, Bears general manager Ryan Poles revealed the team did not make its decision about Williams until after he took his official top 30 visit to the team’s facilities earlier this month. That fact might surprise people who assumed they had made up their minds in mid-March when they decided to trade their former starting quarterback, Justin Fields, to Pittsburgh.

“When you watch the tape, it was easy to see the talent and wanted him on our team, but it was all about going through the process,” Poles said of Williams on Thursday night. “So once we got through the 30 visit and spent time with him and got him with some of the guys on our team, kind of felt good about the person [and] the culture fit, we knew at that point he was going to help us and we were ready to go.”

Bears Took Their Time, But Locked in on Caleb Williams

Poles and his front office confidantes may not have formally settled on Williams as their pick until early April, but their entire “process” for making a quarterback change speaks volumes to how they have felt about the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner along the way.

The Bears confirmed their intentions to draft a rookie quarterback in 2024 before they even got an in-person chance to see Williams work out. While they met with him at the 2024 NFL Combine in early March, he did not participate in drills or undergo medical testing at the event and did not throw until USC’s pro day on March 20 — four days after the team agreed to trade Fields to the Steelers for a 2025 draft selection.

At the time, some thought the Bears’ bold decision-making indicated they felt strongly about several of the quarterbacks in the 2024 class. But then they spent the next month evaluating only one quarterback — Williams — closely while only scouting the others at a relative distance. The Bears had representatives at most quarterbacks’ pro days, but Williams is the only one in the class who received a top 30 invite to visit Halas Hall.

“I didn’t even think that way,” Poles said when asked how many prospects made him feel like it would be worth starting over with a rookie instead of keeping Fields. “It was Caleb, and obviously we watched the other players, but decided on Caleb.”

Caleb Williams Will Wear No. 18 Jersey for Bears

Williams is now officially the Bears starting quarterback after months of speculation, but bad news for jersey editors: He will no longer wear No. 13 as he did at USC.

Instead, Williams is changing back to the No. 18 that he wore during his high school career at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. The Bears confirmed his NFL jersey number before the end of the first round on Thursday night, noting it when they added him to their roster on their official team website.

The Bears also revealed that rookie wide receiver Rome Odunze — their No. 9 overall pick — will wear No. 15 for them after wearing the No. 1 during his time at Washington. Fields wore the No. 1 jersey for the team over the past three seasons, but cornerback Jaylon Johnson claimed it for himself after Fields’ departure earlier this offseason.

“It feels great,” Poles said of landing Williams. “It’s a guy who has all the tools, but it’s gonna take hard work, it’s gonna take getting into sync with his teammates. There’s a long road ahead to develop the places where he needs to develop to win games and bring a championship here, but the beautiful thing is we have the right people here, we have the right teammates and I feel really good about it.”

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