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USC QB Caleb Williams opted not to speak to reporters Saturday following yet another loss, this time to UCLA.
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport compared how Williams handled his loss to how Bengals QB Joe Burrow handled suffering a season-ending injury a day prior:
Joe Burrow learned his season was over on Friday, understood his responsibility, and went out and held a news conference. The job of a QB and face of the franchise. https://t.co/Xh0S6LpfUT— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 19, 2023
Now, Rapoport is part of the story.
The consensus amongst Rapoport’s critics is that the comparison to Burrow is unfair because he plays in the NFL and Williams, 22, is in college.
“Well when your media responsibilities are negotiated collectively with the union you are allowed to be in so you can receive the paycheck you’re allowed to earn things are a little different,” said a viral post to Rapoport from journalist Natalie Weiner.
Well, that argument is a bit of a deflection.
Rapoport — who declined to comment on this story when reached by OutKick — didn’t compare a random college football player to Burrow, who signed a $275 million contract. Rather, he compared Burrow to a prospect who is in line to be the next Joe Burrow.
Williams’ college football career is likely over unless he surprisingly opts to play in a meaningless bowl game. His next snap should be in an NFL uniform.
Scouts have called him a generational talent, on the level of Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. He is overwhelmingly expected to be the first draft pick in the next NFL Draft.
His talent justifies the hype.
Yet talent is not the only trait that leads to a successful career as an NFL QB. Leadership and maturity are just as crucial.
A franchise QB can have all the talent needed but have their career derailed by an inability to handle the spotlight. Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, and Cam Newton (eventually) are proof of that.
Maturity is the biggest question regarding Caleb Williams — from painting “fuck Utah” on his fingernails, to selectively choosing when to engage with the media, to whimpering in his mother’s arms after a loss.
His apparent emotional inconsistencies are part of his story as he heads to the NFL. Just like the oddities of Aaron Rodgers are a part of his.
Thus, Rapoport’s criticism — if we are calling in that — is fair. It is warranted.
Williams is less than one year away from having to sit in front of a sea of reporters, no matter the circumstances.
He openly informed teams that he might struggle to handle the responsibility of guiding a franchise through hardships, like Joe Burrow.
Williams, because of his talent, is likely to be drafted by a below-average squad. He isn’t in line to win a lot of games next season.
Can he handle the scrutiny of the Chicago, New York, or Boston media, the three most likely areas to which he’ll be drafted?
Yet after Saturday, we are left to wonder if he can. His behavior leaves reason for doubt.
As a top five NIL earner and future multi-millionaire, Williams is not off limits to criticism.
In fact, the people shielding Williams are doing him a disservice by not preparing him for what’s to come in the NFL.
Unless the press plans plan to continue to shield him from criticism, as it’s done for Lamar Jackson throughout his career, of course.
Ultimately, the sports media would rather pile on Ian Rapoport than hold Williams accountable for his immaturity.
It’s easier that way. Rapoport doesn’t respond to criticism. No one is going to accuse you of racial undertones when questioning him.
That’s fine. Rapoport can take the blowback. It’s part of his job.
But can Caleb Williams? Because it’s about to be a big part of his job.