Could Caleb Williams return to USC in 2024? Dad says maybe

Caleb Williams already has a Heisman Trophy.

He very well could have another in a few months.

After that, the star USC quarterback is expected to enter the 2024 NFL draft, where he most likely would be snatched up by the first team on the clock.

But what if he doesn’t want to be selected by the first team?

Williams has options, one of which would be returning to the Trojans for his senior season — a possibility his father, Carl Williams, put on the radar in a GQ article that published Wednesday.

“He’s got two shots at the apple,” Carl Williams told the magazine. “So if there’s not a good situation, the truth is, he can come back to school.”

He’s got a point, and one that any NFL team thinking it can tank its way to having Caleb Williams as the face of the franchise should consider. After all, in this era of name, image and likeness deals for college athletes, USC’s-signal caller is not hurting financially and seemingly could afford to put off his NFL career a lot more than past potential No. 1 picks.

Why not hold out for the best possible playing situation as a pro?

“The funky thing about the NFL draft process is, he’d almost be better off not being drafted than being drafted first. The system is completely backwards,” Carl Williams said. “The way the system is constructed, you go to the worst possible situation. The worst possible team, the worst organization in the league — because of their desire for parity — gets the first pick. So it’s the gift and the curse.”

Carl Williams has done his homework. He said he’s talked to Archie Manning, the No. 2 pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1971 whose “career was shot because he went to a horrible organization.” He also picked the brain of USC coach Lincoln Riley, who coached quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (drafted No. 1 by the Cleveland Browns in 2018) and Kyler Murray (drafted No. 1 by the Arizona Cardinals in 2019) in Oklahoma.

“Kyler struggled because of where he was drafted. Baker struggled mightily because of where he was drafted,” Carl Williams said. “The organizations matter.”

Of course, if Caleb Williams waits until the 2025 draft, he still would face the prospect of potentially being selected by the worst team. But even then, he might have options — perhaps his father could again talk to Manning, who is said to have played a role in his son Eli Manning forcing a draft-day trade from the No.1-picking Chargers to the New York Giants.

It’s unclear whether Williams has mentioned returning to college in 2024 as a possibility or if his father was speaking hypothetically. It’s also unclear if there are specific teams the star player does not want to play for or specific situations he hopes to avoid. Williams has yet to be made available to reporters since the GQ article went live, and Carl Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Times.

But one thing is clear — Caleb Williams does have options and doesn’t seem afraid to examine them all.