Brad Biggs: Dream of what Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze can do as rookies — but the story is the Chicago Bears full roster

CHICAGO -- The list of rookie quarterback/wide receiver combinations that have taken the NFL by storm is pretty thin.

In fact, it’s difficult to come up with many rookie pairings that have gone big in Year 1 beyond Andy Dalton and A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals, 2010), Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts, 2012), Tony Banks and Eddie Kennison (St. Louis Rams, 1996) and Tim Couch and Kevin Johnson (Cleveland Browns, 1999).

Last season in Houston, C.J. Stroud and Tank Dell got off to a fantastic start before a broken left leg ended Dell’s season after 11 games with 47 receptions, 709 yards (15.1 average) and seven touchdowns.

It’s easy to get quickly carried away imagining what Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze can accomplish at the outset of their careers with the Chicago Bears even when attempting to zero in on what’s realistic considering the inherent challenges for rookies at each position. Failure for rookie quarterbacks is much more common than breakout seasons like Stroud experienced or even someone like Dalton, who was the first quarterback to throw 20 or more touchdown passes, win nine games and reach the playoffs as a rookie.

Dalton passed for 3,398 yards as a rookie and Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards (16.3) with seven touchdowns, quickly making the Bengals a contender in the AFC North.

The beauty of the situation the Bears have created for their No. 1 draft pick Williams is they’ve got much more than just Odunze, chosen No. 9 on Thursday, to support the quarterback and put him in a position where the offense isn’t reliant on rookies delivering to win games in 2024.

DJ Moore should remain the No. 1 wide receiver in the offense and veteran Keenan Allen is as crafty as they come, a guy with a knack for getting open on critical downs. Add in tight ends Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett and running backs D’Andre Swift, Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson, and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has the kind of good problems that should lead to long nights of preparation for opposing defensive coordinators.

The first step is getting the newcomers acclimated at rookie minicamp, which begins May 10, with an introduction to the team’s system, practice protocols, lifting and more so they can mesh seamlessly with veterans in the voluntary offseason program. There are no steps that can be skipped.

Naturally, a ton of focus will be on Williams and how he adapts to what Waldron and the staff want to build around him. He has eagerly started that process, saying he’s intent on developing relationships and getting to know new teammates, a fact underscored by evidence of Williams quickly touching base with new teammates as they were drafted. That’s how it works in the NFL. That’s where the story, as skewed as it’s been at times, has been at Halas Hall for the longest time.

“It’s really just the operation, right?” general manager Ryan Poles said. “He’s going to have to operate the offense. He’s going to have to spit (out) the calls. He’s going to have to be clean with his cadence and just operate in the offense. If it’s in the huddle, from the no-huddle and all the situations, he’s going to have to play point guard. That’s what he does. Distribute the ball.”

Again, that is where this entire process gets exciting for Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. Imagine them having to pinch themselves from time to time asking, “Is this real? Can this infrastructure around the quarterback become what we imagine?”

The Bears don’t need Williams to be Superman from the jump because he has so many parts around him that should be able to function at a high level and challenge opposing defenses. There will be pressure on Williams — and it will be intense at times — but he’s not being thrown into a situation where he’s got one guy he can win with consistently or a cobbled-together group of skill position players.

Justin Fields was throwing to Darnell Mooney, Allen Robinson and Marquise Goodwin as a rookie in 2021. Mitch Trubisky had it worse in 2017 when his top three receivers were Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Dontrelle Inman.

It’s difficult to set a highly drafted rookie quarterback up for success because usually, a team has to be moribund in all areas to even be in a spot to land a player like Williams. But the Bears, through happenstance, some shrewd long-range planning, some bumpy times and some good fortune, find themselves grinning as they ponder the possibilities of wide-open football.

“It’s a guy that has all the tools,” Poles said. “It’s going to take hard work. It’s going to take getting in synch with his teammates. There’s a long road up ahead to develop the places where he needs to develop to win games and bring a championship here but the beautiful thing is we have the right people here, we have the right teammates. I feel really good about it.”

Eberflus, who can easily analyze situations from a defensive perspective, has already begun playing out in his mind what it will look like on the practice fields at Halas Hall this spring and summer.

“I think it’s going to be tough to defend, starting with practice,” he said. “We’ve gotta defend those guys in practice, which I think is going to be really good for our skill set on both sides of the ball. Because if you look at the receiving corps, they’re all different. The halfbacks are all different. The tight ends are different. They’re different skill sets.

“I think that’s a credit to Ryan to be able to bring those guys together, acquire those guys, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to defend.”

How it unfolds is the story of the season ahead as the Bears establish a new identity and — hopefully — start anew with a culture that is accompanied by winning and not just empty talk better suited for a corporate boardroom than a football organization.

Credit Poles for not taking any sort of victory lap over the weekend as the draft seemingly broke just the way the Bears had hoped, even down to Day 3 when they selected Iowa punter Tory Taylor and then traded back into Round 5 for Kansas defensive end Austin Booker.

“To have the opportunities we did this year, for everything to go what I think is in a really good direction, it’s really big for our football team,” he said. “I think we made huge strides forward. There’s work to be done, but this is an impact draft for this organization for sure.”

And the Bears are not going to be banking on just rookies to make it happen in Year 1. That is why there is excitement for the season ahead and much further down the road.