It appears that, for now, the Bears plan to keep the No. 1 overall pick in April, but at least one of the franchise’s former players wants them to avoid selecting Caleb Williams.

In an interview with NBC Sports Chicago ahead of Super Bowl 2024, Merril Hoge said that Williams — the former USC quarterback viewed as the most likely option to become the first pick — “is not special.”

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

After the draft order was finalized, the Bears possessed the No. 1 pick from last year’s trade with the Panthers, but they also have quarterback Justin Fields on their roster — with his 2023 season featuring career-highs for completion percentage and passing yards, and he threw two fewer interceptions than last year, too.

Fields’ potential — as a quarterback with improved passing numbers and his dynamic production as a runner — could add value if the Bears traded the 24-year-old and kept the top pick. 

That scenario appears more likely after NFL.com reported Saturday that it would take a “crazy” deal for Chicago to part ways with its draft position. 

“We are going to turn every stone to make sure that we are going to make a sound decision for our organization,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles told reporters in January, according to NFL.com. “I did think Justin got better. I think he can lead this team. But at the same time, there is a unique situation.”

The Bears won five of their final eight games in 2023 and kept their playoff hopes alive until Week 17, and Fields started 13 games to add more experience — which Hoge said he lacked following his tenure at Ohio State.

Hoge, a former running back who spent the 1994 season with the Bears, added that the Bears’ constant turnover at offensive coordinator, with Bill Lazor and Luke Getsy filling the role across Fields’ three seasons, was the “worst thing that can happen to any player, especially the quarterback.”

So even though Hoge admitted he has only watched six of Williams’ games at USC from the past two seasons, he sees a scenario where Fields becomes the right quarterback for the Bears — along with a reason for them to avoid pivoting to Williams.

“When Justin came out, the one thing I had thought he had was he just had inexperience,” Hoge told NBC Sports Chicago. “He just needed more experience. He lacked that.

“But what I have seen in Justin Fields, from my evaluation: there is enough growth and tape there that I would not let him go because I see enough there.”

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