Report: Potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick Caleb Williams made approximately $10 million in NIL deals at USC

Caleb Williams was potentially making NFL-level money over his final two seasons at USC.

The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner could have made in the neighborhood of $10 million in endorsement deals, according to the Athletic. If that number is accurate — and it’s very plausible that it is — Williams was likely the highest-compensated player in college football over the past two seasons.

From the Athletic:

Between NIL money and endorsements, Caleb made millions in his final two seasons at USC, with multiple sources putting the number around $10 million. “It wasn’t like having a college quarterback on your roster,” said a source close to USC. “It was like having an NFL starting quarterback on your roster.”

Williams was already one of the most marketable players in college football when he transferred from Oklahoma to USC ahead of the 2022 season when coach Lincoln Riley left the Sooners to head to Southern Cal. After taking over for Spencer Rattler in 2021, Williams established himself as one of the most dynamic players in college football.

Williams excelled in his first season in Los Angeles and easily won the Heisman Trophy despite suffering a hamstring injury in a Pac-12 championship game loss to Utah.

USC took a significant step back in 2023, but Williams was still very good. He threw 12 fewer TD passes in two fewer games last season, but he completed a higher percentage of his passes and averaged more yards per attempt (9.4) than he did in 2022 (9.1).

His excellence and improvisation is a big reason why he’s expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft this April. Even if the Chicago Bears — or a team that trades with the Bears — takes North Carolina QB Drake Maye at No. 1, it’s impossible to see Williams falling past the Washington Commanders at No. 2.

The amount of money Williams was likely making at USC over the last two seasons also provides greater context for the number of underclassmen who have entered the 2024 NFL Draft. Williams is one of just 58 underclassmen who declared for the draft. In 2023, 82 underclassmen declared for the draft. In 2019, when college players were still barred from making money off their name, image and likeness, 135 players declared early.

Though Williams’ total compensation in 2022 and 2023 is certainly an outlier among college players, it’s proof that football players can sufficiently capitalize on their value after decades of not being able to retain their own image rights.

If Williams made $5 million or so in 2023, his compensation for the year wasn’t far off from the 2023 cap hit of No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young. The former Alabama quarterback received a $24.6 million signing bonus from the Panthers as part of his contract with the team — a lump sum figure that dwarfed anything that Williams made a season ago — but his cap number was less than $7 million.