Why Caleb Williams should prepare for the Cam Newton treatment ahead of NFL draft

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In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series “29 Black Stories in 29 Days.” We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials continue to face after the nation’s reckoning on race following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This is the fourth installment of the series.

NFL analyst Merril Hoge recently offered the first of possibly many blistering assessments of USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

“The one thing that is clear (is that) he is not special,” Hoge said. “He is not something unique like Patrick Mahomes. And I hope the Bears don’t think ‘Well, let’s try to make up for our mistake for when we passed on Patrick Mahomes and go get Patrick Mahomes.’ The kid is not Patrick Mahomes. He ain’t even remotely close to that.”

Hoge added: “First of all, his ability to throw on the run is very disturbing. It is very inaccurate and it’s all over the place. There’s a ton of RPO (run pass option), which nobody is going to RPO themselves to a Super Bowl in our league. … You gotta push the ball down the field. There are times when he does that. He doesn’t play with a lot of anticipation because of all the clean pockets that exist for him.

“The thing that’s disturbing me right now is his inability to be consistent on the move as a thrower. And he’s willing to do that a lot more than he has to. You don’t have that choice in our league…I don’t see anything magical with his arm…”

How do you really feel, Hoge?

Hoge gets lots right and plenty wrong. Cam Newton is a good example of what he got wildly wrong.

“The only word I can use after watching four games is atrocious,” Hoge said of Newton before the 2011 draft. “You never know where that ball will end up. In fact, he was more of a runner than he ever was a passer.”

Williams can expect to get the Newton treatment. Newton was shredded by some analysts with one saying the quarterback had a “fake smile.” You don’t have to go back to Newton. Last year during the draft process quarterback C.J. Stroud had test scores leaked. But Newton is one of the gold standards of NFL disparate treatment.

Some of the evaluations of Williams, like Hoge’s, will be earnest. Maybe they will be harsh. Or favorable. But they will be earnest.

Other evaluations of Williams will be harsh, and biased, especially when it comes to team evaluations, because history shows that is simply the case with Black quarterbacks in the draft. There’s data to back this. Black quarterbacks are exposed to extensive bias in the draft, according to a 2023 analysis by SFGate.com.

Read more NFL coverage: DJ Moore continues to advocate for Justin Fields and his ‘growth’ as Bears QB

“The evidence strongly suggests that racial bias is blinding teams in the draft process, leading them to prefer inferior quarterbacks as long as they’re not Black,” the site wrote.

It added: “In other words, Black quarterbacks are penalized in the draft solely for being Black, our analysis suggests, and it’sa penalty that reverberates years into their professional careers.”

“Black quarterbacks probably aren’t getting in the (draft) pool unless they’re amazing,” David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University who has studied race in the NFL, told SFGATE. “White quarterbacks are getting in the pool when they’re not amazing. That’s why you see this.” 

Williams could be another one of these quarterbacks who could be judged harshly because he’s already seen as polarizing (even though he really isn’t).

Again, this isn’t about Hoge, who last year said he felt Stroud would be good in the NFL. He just won offensive rookie of the year. This is about, if history repeats, there will be some evaluators both with teams and in the media who will evaluate Williams in good faith. There will be others who won’t because he’s a Black quarterback. It will happen because it happens repeatedly.

You can count on it.

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