clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fact Check: Caleb Williams is Solid vs Ranked Opponents

In fact, he is better against top-25 opponents than any of the other top names in this quarterback class.

NCAA Football: Southern California at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

With all but two teams facing the 2024 NFL Draft before they have any other games, conversation about football prospects are getting going in earnest. It’s a time for unknown sources to attack character and for people to pour over numbers looking for a reason to favor their preferred prospect over another. This sort of stuff is typical. However, sometimes it is fun to fact check some of the noise.

That’s especially true when one candidate in particular is attracting the majority of the criticism. Supposedly, USC quarterback Caleb Williams is terrible against ranked opponents. If true, this is cause for alarm. The question is, though, how bad is he? To answer this question, I went to Sports Reference and pulled the career game logs for each of the top five QB prospects in this draft class: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, J.J. McCarthy, and Bo Nix. I then only kept the game logs for teams that finished that season ranked in the Top 25 of the AP Poll.

NCAA Passer Rating vs Top 25

vs. Top 25

Player Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions NCAA Rating
Player Completions Attempts Comp % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions NCAA Rating
Caleb Williams (T25) 314 488 64.34% 4029 31 8 151.4
Jayden Daniels (T25) 274 423 64.78% 3416 23 7 147.2
J.J. McCarthy (T25) 133 210 63.33% 1658 11 4 143.1
Drake Maye (T25) 133 227 58.59% 1626 16 5 137.6
Bo Nix (T25) 445 720 61.81% 4986 31 15 130

Obviously, there are some lower passer ratings than these quarterbacks post across their entire careers, but that shouldn’t be terribly surprising—good teams push even good players out of their comfort zone. That should not be news. What is striking to me is that JJ McCarthy (sometimes considered to be “carried along by his team”) in in the middle of the pack in terms of individual performance, and that Drake Maye (considered the chief contender for the #1 pick) plays so relatively poorly. I am also struck by the fact that Bo Nix has more passing attempts against ranked teams than either Mitch Trubisky or Justin Fields had in their entire college careers.

However, if you want a quarterback who simply shows up against ranked teams, #13 is your man.

Experience vs Ranked Teams

Of course, there’s also the possibility that what a team really wants is simply experience against ranked teams. After all, the transition from college to the pros can be difficult, and this can mean that having more reps against quality opposition matters. Presumably, people making this argument prefer Bo Nix (21 games against ranked opponents), but even there Caleb Williams comes in at a comfortable tie for second place with 14 games against ranked opponents. Fellow Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels also has 14 games against ranked opponents, but Williams has more pass attempts (488 to 423), as well as the higher passer rating. J.J. McCarthy is next, with Drake Maye’s six total games against ranked opponents bringing up the rear. In fact, the other four prospects have more games against top ten opponents than Maye has against top twenty-five teams (Maye has no games against teams that finished the year in the top ten).

Meanwhile, even though “wins” are not a quarterback stat, some fans insist upon viewing them as such. In games where Caleb Williams played across his entire college career, his teams are 6-8 (42%) against ranked foes. That is the second-best record, behind only Michigan’s astonishing record while J.J. McCarthy was playing (9-3). Nix, Daniels, and Maye (in that order) follow along.

Elevating Performance

If someone is desperate to drag Caleb Williams down against his peers, there is hope—but it requires abandoning Drake Maye as a prospect entirely. Maye does not have any experience against Top 10 teams. However, the remaining four players under consideration do games under consideration. Williams’ 156.3 NCAA passer rating against these teams actually places him only second behind LSU’s Jayden Daniels (165.5). McCarthy also elevated his play slightly (150.7), Nix sort of has an honorable mention as someone who had these opportunities but who struggled in big games (114.1)

Of the three players in the upper tier, with 261 passes, Williams has the most attempts (Nix has 560, but his performance dropped and is not on the level of the others). Daniels has only ten fewer passes than Williams. Interestingly, McCarthy has nine games against top ten opponents and his team won six of them. However, he only averaged 19 pass attempts per game. By contrast, Jayden Daniels was the next lowest with 31! Caleb Williams had to pass more than 37 times per game against Top 10 opponents, more than double the rate of McCarthy.

McCarthy’s profile is that of an accomplished passer who did not need to do too much. He won, and he played within himself, but definitely did not have to carry the team. Daniels passed nearly twice as often on a per-game basis as McCarthy, and he played exceptionally well in those efforts. He clearly elevated his play, and it showed in his personal stats. He just narrowly takes first place from Williams here. Finally, Caleb Williams took on as much of the workload as possible, and he and Daniels actually played better against Top 10 teams than anyone in this group did against Top 25 teams! However, in his case those individual efforts were not enough.

Conclusions

Based purely on these measures, a team should have serious reservations about drafting Drake Maye. He lacks the big game experience that the other prospects show, and in his limited opportunities his performance is not as strong as that of his peers. Likewise, Bo Nix has big game experience, but he does not seem to play very well (comparatively) in those opportunities. Jayden Daniels, J.J. McCarthy, and Caleb Williams all have measures here that are exceptionally promising. Daniels clearly showed up in big games, McCarthy played well enough (and some will be enamored of the “winner” label) when asked to do so, and Williams both stepped up and played better or as well as his peers in most regards.

Obviously, box score scouting is not true scouting. Analysis of the games themselves is important, and the tape is the tape. Medical evaluations and player interviews still need to be done. However, the top three players in this group all stand out as exceptional competitors, and there is little sign that Williams, in particular, folds in the face of quality competition—in fact, he excels.