Caleb Williams vs J.J. McCarthy: Who’s got it better?

Caleb Williams vs J.J. McCarthy: Who’s got it better?

With both teams boasting two first-round picks each, the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears were well aware of the potential for the 2024 NFL Draft to be franchise-defining – particularly given their urgent need for new quarterbacks.

Possessing the highly-coveted first overall pick – thanks to a trade with the Carolina Panthers in 2023 – Chicago selected the generational talent that is Caleb Williams out of USC, before adding to their new-look offense at ninth overall, with Washington Huskies wide receiver Rome Odunze. The Vikings, on the other hand, held the 11th and 23rd overall picks. Following a nerve-racking start to the Draft, Minnesota eventually pulled the trigger on a trade with the New York Jets to move up one spot – selecting reigning National Champion and Michigan Wolverines QB1, J.J. McCarthy – paving the way for a trade from 23 to 17 in order to select Alabama edge rusher, Dallas Turner.

As the first round drew to a close, Vikings and Bears fans revelled in the spotlight as experts wasted little time crowning both NFC North teams ‘Round One Winners’ – emphatically highlighting the impact that both quarterbacks can have on their respective teams in 2024 and beyond. With Minnesota and Chicago both scheduled to play in London later this year, British NFL fans will soon witness the undeniable talent that these two starlet signal-callers possess. However, with a myriad of factors notably contributing to the success or failure of rookie quarterbacks throughout the league’s history, Decyfr dissects which quarterback has found themselves in the optimal landing spot.

While there is little doubt regarding who is the more naturally gifted of the two – with Caleb Williams deemed one of the most promising college quarterbacks in the last decade – prospects are often defined by far more than just their talent – with playmakers, protection and coaching playing pivotal roles. Back in 2018, USC superstar Sam Darnold was deemed a guaranteed ‘hit’ when was he drafted by the New York Jets with the third overall pick. However, with sub-par coaching headlining an all-round inadequate support system, Darnold was brandished a ‘bust’ before being traded to the Panthers.

To avoid suffering the same fate as the Jets and many others before them, the Bears made sure to load their offense with elite playmakers in preparation for Caleb Williams’ arrival – trading for one of the league’s best route-runners in Keenan Allen, and signing Pro Bowl running back D’Andre Swift. Consequently, Williams enters the league knowing that he has one of the top wide receiver groups in the league, as well as a solid safety blanket in Cole Kmet at tight end and Swift in the backfield – a proven dual-threat back capable of taking any checkdown to the house. 

J.J. McCarthy finds himself in a unique situation with the Vikings – with a pre-established offense that was simply awaiting a young signal-caller to take the reins after the departure of four-time Pro Bowler, Kirk Cousins. Spearheaded by the electrifying presence of Justin Jefferson – arguably the league’s premier wide receiver – McCarthy steps into an environment littered with talent and opportunity. Supported by second-year receiver Jordan Addison –who had an incredible rookie season in Jefferson’s absence due to injury in 2023 – the Vikings have one of the best wide receiver duos in the entire league. Throw into the mix tight end T.J. Hockenson – who, despite his size, can run any route in the tree – and newly-acquired touchdown machine Aaron Jones in the backfield, and it becomes evident just why J.J. McCarthy is poised to carry his reputation as winner from college through to the NFL. A reputation that was earned as McCarthy won over 96% of his games during his college career – the third-best winning percentage by a quarterback in college football history

That said, arguably the most significant way to ensure a young quarterback reaches his full potential is through building an elite offensive line in front of him. A prime example of this was Andrew Luck. When Luck entered the league out of Stanford in 2012, he was projected to be one of the best ever. Despite his weekly heroics, however, injuries forced his career to be cut short as Luck was sacked a staggering 174 times in just over five injury-ridden seasons.

As mentioned, the Bears have loaded their offense with incredible playmakers to support Caleb Williams. However, their offensive line is yet to see the same injection of top-tier talent. Chicago will be counting on right tackle Darnell Wright to take a leap in his second year and left tackle Braxton Jones to stay healthy. Otherwise, no matter how good the weapons, Williams won’t have the time to get the ball out of his hands – a problem he faced in abundance during his final year at USC, as his sack rate climbed from 2.14% to 2.54%, preventing the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner from retaining his crown in 2023.

The Vikings, on the other hand, seem to have found themselves with one of the NFL’s most robust offensive lines, after several struggles in that department. Anchored by left tackle Christian Darrisaw – one of the best offensive linemen in the league – J.J. McCarthy will be safe in the knowledge that his blind side will be protected on a weekly basis. Furthermore, with team captain Brian O’Neill having already been selected to a Pro Bowl, the Vikings boast one of the NFL’s best tackle duos. There are still question marks surrounding the interior of the offensive line, however, the heightened quality of both tackle spots means Minnesota has a great foundation in front of McCarthy

Both Caleb Williams and J.J. McCarthy are stepping into promising situations with plenty of opportunities to thrive. While Caleb Williams will have to learn on the fly and likely be the Week 1 starter in Chicago, J.J. McCarthy, by all indications, will sit and learn behind Sam Darnold for at least the start of the seasonBoth scenarios have proven to be successful in the past. Whether that be Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes sitting behind a veteran QB before coming in and taking the league by storm, or Peyton Manning who, despite leading the league in interceptions with 28 in his rookie season, went on to become one of the best of all time. 

Even with the Bears’ recent offensive acquisitions, the presence of head coach Kevin O’Connell in Minnesota means McCarthy’s situation likely holds a slight advantage over that of Caleb Williams. O’Connell’s reputation as a top-tier offensive mind resulted in the 38-year-old becoming the fastest head coach in team history to reach 20 wins. O’Connell’s presence, coupled with the luxury of learning behind Darnold and a stellar supporting cast, undeniably creates an enviable situation for the rookie quarterback. 

Whether the advantage lies with Williams or McCarthy ahead of this upcoming season, NFL fans in the UK are undoubtedly in for a treat come the 2024 NFL London Games.

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