The two top QB1 candidates in the 2024 NFL Draft — Caleb Williams and Drake Maye — had very different outings in Week 7. Is it time to consider flipping Maye over Williams, and what led to Williams’ meltdown against Notre Dame?

Drake Maye and Caleb Williams Moving in Different Directions in 2024 NFL Draft QB1 Race

About as much went wrong for Williams as it could in the USC Trojans’ Week 7 loss to the Fighting Irish. The Trojans lost 48-20, and from the start, it wasn’t much of a fight.

USC did double its points output in the second half, but three first-half interceptions by Williams directly led to points on the other side, giving Notre Dame a commanding 24-6 lead by the half.

MORE: Top Quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft

It was arguably the first time we’ve seen Williams’ flaws as a prospect lead directly to a loss for his squad. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Maye was immaculate against an NFL talent-laden Miami defense, throwing for 273 yards and four touchdowns in a statement win.

The consensus view for most of the 2024 NFL Draft cycle has been that Williams is QB1 over Maye, but is it time to legitimately challenge that? To find an answer, let’s dive into what went wrong for Williams and how it contrasts with Maye.

Scouting Spotlight: The Other End of Williams’ High-Variance Playstyle

Williams’ playstyle is exciting. We love it. Every week leading into Week 7, it seemed, there was a play where he danced around inside and outside the pocket, made defenders miss, kept his eyes up, and delivered a laser to some inconceivable window down the field.

Williams has truly game-breaking creation capacity and creative ability. That’s why he’s rightly a QB1 contender in the 2024 NFL Draft. But his showing against Notre Dame put some of the downsides of that playstyle under the spotlight — and in brutal fashion.

First and foremost, simple inaccuracy continues to be a problem for Williams in the short range on rhythm throws, screens, and checkdowns.

On this delayed throw to a wide-open TE, Williams is fading back against pressure, and the act of fading back tugs his front shoulder high, leading to an over-throw and an interception.

Williams has shown he can keep his shoulders level while fading back and throwing on the move, but he has to be more disciplined at a consistent clip to avoid these kinds of plays.

His short-range inaccuracy and lack of situational precision showed up later in the red zone as well. On this next throw, USC dials up a bubble screen on third down, aiming to create a space opportunity and get points.

On the throw, however, Williams doesn’t torque his hips all the way around, tightening the throw angle. He also throws with too much of an overhead release, drawing the pass high and ahead of the receiver.

Williams should have placed this pass behind the line of scrimmage, so the wide receiver could come back to it and allow his block to develop. Instead, Williams leads the receiver right into a charging cornerback who’s already triggered on the play.

It’s small, but this is the difference between a field goal and a potential touchdown here. And those kinds of point gaps can matter down the line.

Accuracy isn’t the only area where Williams can be inconsistent, however. His decision-making was also particularly volatile in this loss, and that directly led to several momentum shifts for Notre Dame’s defense.

The play below comes on 1st-and-10. Williams has a five-step drop and immediately encounters pressure at the top of his drop. He does a good job stepping up into the pocket to avoid the rush but misses the tight end wide open on a delayed release into the flat.

MORE: Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

On a 1st-and-10 situation, Williams should be aware of his outlet and live to fight another day. The outlet WR would’ve had a run-after-catch opportunity, but instead, he tries to force the throw up the left seam while there are two defenders hovering underneath. The result, predictably, is a pick, which results in a Notre Dame touchdown almost immediately.

Pressure can be a catalyst for volatility in all quarterbacks. But with Williams, the potential variance increases tenfold. His next interception was a similar play.

On this play, Williams does encounter pressure very quickly. Ideally, he has better protection. But Williams should know he’s hot here, with extra rushers coming his way, and his eyes are in the right spot at the top of his drop.

Williams should be able to see the slot WR breaking open on the slant and anticipate. Beyond that, he needs to be poised and stand tall. Sure, he might take a hit, but the receiver is open with leverage inside for RAC. There needs to be no hesitation.

Instead, however, Williams bounces out of the pocket and funnels himself into a corner working to the sideline. And in that mode, he forces another pick, trying to hit an unrealistic and fleeting window downfield.

Against Notre Dame, more than once, Williams worked himself into an unsavory situation with undisciplined pocket navigation and compounded the poor execution with a poor decision to finish.

On one hand, Williams’ patience and creation capacity can lead to incredible plays. But when you need him to stand in the pocket, stay in rhythm, and get the ball out quickly, he’s far too inconsistent in doing so.

This was a concern coming out of his 2022 campaign, and the Fighting Irish brought it to light even more.

But it’s even easier to notice when you see Maye doing the opposite against Miami: Keeping rhythm and efficiency on quick drops, anticipating short windows at the second level, and firing with accuracy.

You can absolutely make the argument that Williams’ pass blocking wasn’t up to par for the majority of the game against Notre Dame, and you’d be correct.

But there are also plays where — even if your blocking craters early, even if you know you’re probably going to take a hit — you have to stand in and commit to your first read or your checkdown if it’s there.

The best QB prospects have the poise to do this. Trevor Lawrence did. But Williams doesn’t quite have it yet.

It’s important to note that volatility in high-pressure situations is a very common flaw for young QBs to have — perhaps the most common. Maye deals with it, too. And with Williams’ high-variance playstyle, it’s no surprise that the negative swings yield more dramatic negative results.

Nevertheless, this is something you have to count equally for each prospect. As good as Williams is, he’s not untouchable like he’s been hyped to be at times.

This was something that also happened in the 2021 NFL Draft cycle. At times, Lawrence was deemed untouchable, but he wasn’t.

You can’t absolve Williams of blame for these momentum-changing plays or give him a pass because the upside is so great.

It’s also worth noting that Williams did improve in the second half. He was a little more composed and disciplined in the pocket and delivered more than one precise money-down laser, leading his receivers away from contact in the short range.

Still, we’re starting to see a theme with Williams. When the other team doesn’t have comparable talent on defense, he can stay in control even when plays drone on. That’s when we see his magic.

But when the other team does have comparable talent, that ticking clock gets a little louder. And when Williams misses early reads or hesitates, or bails from the pocket too early, it can press him into making mistakes — mistakes that better teams are more equipped to capitalize on.

In the NFL, he’ll face those teams far more often, and that’s why he has to fix these issues.

One of the top-selling points of Williams’ game — even with the awareness that he sometimes creates chaos — is that he’s so good at navigating that chaos. But against Notre Dame, that was not the case, and it’s okay to be concerned about that.

MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Prospect Watchlist

To a degree, Maye also struggles with decision-making under pressure. But right now, he’s better at managing the pocket, staying on schedule, and limiting instances where he creates unnecessary chaos. And for two prospects who are both very tools-rich, that could be the deciding factor in the QB1 race.

QB evaluation is always about finding the best balance of natural talent and operational utility. If we’re comparing Maye and Williams head-on, it’s hard to argue that Maye has the better QB1 combination within that lens.

Ian Cummings is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Ian’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

Listen to the PFN Scouting Podcast

List to the PFN Scouting Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Scouting Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Scouting Podcast on our Scouting YouTube channel.

Source Link

Our dynamic team of journalists collaborates to deliver breaking news and insightful stories from around the globe. With a shared commitment to accuracy and relevance, we keep you informed and engaged. Trust SBC Desk News for your daily news updates.