Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles watches during the second...

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls in Chicago, Wednesday, March 27, 2024. The Bulls won 125-99. Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears know who they're taking with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and so does just about everyone else too.

General manager Ryan Poles just wasn't ready to announce it's Caleb Williams on Tuesday. He opted to leave that to commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday night.

“So unfortunately it’s one of those things I think everyone’s got to tune in on Thursday to watch and figure out, but I feel really good about our process and where we are and where we’re headed," Poles said, smiling. "So we know what we’re going to do but everyone is going to have to wait until Thursday to go there.”

Barring a massive surprise, the Bears will kick off the draft by grabbing the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner and setting themselves on a course they hope takes them to the top of the NFL. They also have the ninth overall pick as well as a third-rounder (75) and a fourth-rounder (122).

Chicago has been the likely landing spot for Williams since he announced in an Instagram post in January that he was leaving USC and turning pro.

The Bears are in this position thanks to a blockbuster trade last year with Carolina. Chicago sent the No. 1 pick in 2023 to the Panthers for receiver DJ Moore and their first-rounder this year. Carolina finished with a league-worst 2-15 mark.

Williams checks all the boxes with his arm strength and ability to avoid defenders. He can extend plays and make throws on the run as well as in the pocket — an area where former starter Justin Fields struggled.

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams speaks during a press conference...

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, March 1, 2024. Williams is expected to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Credit: AP/Michael Conroy

Williams had 93 touchdowns and 14 interceptions during three seasons at Oklahoma and USC. He threw for 72 TDs and just 10 interceptions in two years with the Trojans. He also showed the ability to run with 27 rushing touchdowns in college.

Williams followed coach Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles and won the Heisman in 2022. Williams threw for 4,537 yards, 42 touchdowns and five interceptions to lift USC from four wins in 2021 to 11 and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl.

Williams put up big numbers again last season while the Trojans struggled to an 8-5 record with one of the nation's worst defenses. He threw for 3,333 yards, 30 touchdowns and five interceptions in 12 games. He did not play in the Holiday Bowl.

The Bears have been eyeing Williams throughout the draft process. They met with him at the combine and spent a few days with him leading into his pro day in Los Angeles.

Williams also made a top 30 visit to Halas Hall and got to have dinner with some of the team's players, including linebacker T.J. Edwards.

“You get to know people and how they fit in the culture and things like that,” Edwards said. “At the end of the day once we get people here and once whoever is signed will be here, we’ll hit the ground running with that.”

Poles said the feedback about Williams he got from the players at the dinner was positive.

“I think it just confirmed a lot of information that we got," he said. “You know, there’s a kind of test to where his football understanding is. That part, getting him with some of our players. That’s important to us. We’re in a really good place with our culture in our locker room. As much as I can I want those guys a part of the process of building this team. I trust their feedback and I think that chemistry is really important so that’s why we did that."

The Bears are 10-24 in two seasons under Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. But after going 7-10 last season, they believe they are poised to take another big step.

Williams would have two star receivers to work with in Moore and the recently acquired Keenan Allen as well as two productive tight ends in Cole Kmet and newcomer Gerald Everett. He has big goals, saying on The Pivot Podcast that he hopes to spend 20 years with one team and chase Tom Brady's record seven Super Bowl wins.

“I love it,” Poles said. “I think we all should have huge goals. We have huge goals here — win multiple championships. And that’s what we shoot for. You’re more intentional when you have these goals, you have to live a certain way, you have to practice a certain way, you have to go about your business a certain way in order to accomplish those. If everything else is in line underneath that, that gets me excited.”

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