2024 NFL Draft: Ron Rivera on Caleb Williams and the pressure of drafting a QB No. 1


Nobody has quite the unique perspective on the 2024 NFL Draft that Ron Rivera brings.

Rivera starred in his playing career as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, who hold the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, and from 2020 through last season he was head coach of the Washington Commanders, who hold the No. 2 pick. 

The first draft Rivera ever participated in as a head coach was also very similar to the one taking place this year, as Rivera’s Carolina Panthers took a successful college quarterback seen as a generational NFL prospect — 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Cam Newton — with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. 

The Bears are widely expected to take 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, also seen as an elite prospect, with the top pick Thursday.

But just because the Bears are seemingly going with the obvious choice does not mean they did not do their homework on the man they figure to anoint as their franchise quarterback. Rivera said from the perspective of coaches and front offices in that position, they still have to do everything they can to be sure that they have the right guy.

“What everybody has done the first few months of this draft cycle is try to find out what he can’t do, try to find out all of his faults,” Rivera told Skip Bayless and Keyshawn Johnson on Tuesday’s edition of “Undisputed.” 

“Then the last month, they’ve probably sat down and said, ‘OK, let’s talk about what he does do and how well he does it and how it fits us.’ … These top quarterbacks have been picked through, they’ve been dragged through, they’ve been pulled through, now they’re being looked at as to why they’re our best pick.”

Ron Rivera previews 2024 NFL Draft, talks Cowboys, Eagles, Commanders

Rivera elaborated on what that process looked like leading up to when the Panthers picked Newton on an appearance on “The NFL on FOX Podcast” with Dave Helman.

“We had to go through our list of quarterbacks,” Rivera said. “That list was pretty good, but it was nothing like this year’s list. This year’s list is pretty special, I think. As we were going through it, obviously Cam was at the top of our board to begin with. We started all our work with him. I think [then-Panthers general manager] Marty Hurney did the most work of anybody in our group. He was truly sold on Cam probably within the first month just because of everything we saw of him, but you can’t go in and say ‘Hey, we’re sold’ that early without doing every bit of work you could. 

“And so for the next couple of months, everything was about finding out what he can’t do, what he’s not capable of, and let’s see how that’s going to impact us. Then, as we got closer to the draft, it was about, ‘What can he do? What are the skill sets that he has? What does he bring to the table? Does that fit what we want to do? How does it fit? And those things that didn’t work for us, can we improve those things, or are those things we have to worry about?'”

Ron Rivera describes why the Panthers drafted Cam Newton

Still, Rivera said the Panthers were “100-percent sure” they would take Newton with several weeks remaining before the draft, and separate trips to Atlanta by Hurney and Rivera to meet Newton’s family sealed the deal.

“We knew that he was going to be our guy and everything about him told us he was the fit for Carolina,” Rivera recalled.

Rivera not only believes the Bears have come to a similar conclusion about Williams, he also thinks the team he once played for and admittedly still roots for sometimes has set itself up well for success around their incoming star rookie quarterback.

Rivera is also a fan of the moves Chicago has made over the past year, including trading for veteran wide receivers D.J. Moore and Keenan Allen, adding running back D’Andre Swift in free agency and acquiring defensive lineman Montez Sweat during last season — whom Rivera coached on the Commanders and praised to Helman as an “explosive, dynamic” player.

Can Caleb Williams excel with Chicago Bears? Ron Rivera makes BOLD prediction

In fact, Rivera thinks the Bears can push for a playoff spot next season after missing out in each of head coach Matt Eberflus’s first two years at the helm, and explained why to Johnson on the latter’s podcast, “All Facts No Brakes.”

“They’re building around those guys,” Rivera explained. “They’re going to make some good decisions, I believe, in this draft to be even better. And I do think they’ll make a strong push for the playoffs next year, and just getting in will show they improvement and growth that they need to make. I do believe Caleb Williams is their pick and I believe he is the guy that can come in and impact their franchise and get them going in the right direction. 

“He played at USC — when you play on a team like that, that played the types of games they play against the competition they can, and then do what he did — I do believe it shows he’s more than capable.”

When Johnson asked what he would do with the No. 2 pick if he were still coaching the Commanders, the defensive-minded Rivera said it would all depend on who was running the team’s offense, and believes that LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels may get bumped ahead of North Carolina’s Drake Maye on Washington’s draft board because of his fit with the team’s new scheme.

Ron Rivera dishes on Daniels vs. Maye

“If you’re gonna play a bit more prolific style of a scheme, Drake Maye is the guy,” Rivera said. “Kliff Kingsbury right now is the offensive coordinator, and unless Kliff changes a little bit of what he wants to do, you’re looking at more of a spread or ‘Air Raid’ style of offense which is going to require a bit more mobile of a quarterback or more athletic of a quarterback that can extend plays with his legs and yet still have the ability to throw the ball downfield. If you do that, Jayden’s your guy.”

But, Rivera said, Daniels should learn from the career of Kingsbury’s last quarterback — Arizona Cardinals signal-caller Kyler Murray — a similarly mobile player who has suffered several injuries during his time in the NFL.

“He’s got to change his mentality of learning to protect himself because he took a lot of hits, a lot of big shots in college football, and it just gets tougher in the NFL,” Rivera said. “So understanding how to get rid of the ball, when to get rid of the ball and take care of yourself.”

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