(Note: This is Part II of a two-part series behind the Panthers decision to trade up and select Bryce Young No. 1 overall in the 2023 draft.)
Last week I wrote at length about the strategic imperative for the Carolina Panthers to draft and develop a Pro Bowl quarterback. GM Scott Fitterer and Carolina’s front office attempted to do this in 2023 by trading up from No. 9 to No. 1 and selecting Bryce Young.
The title of last week’s article was “Why the Panthers were right to trade up and draft Bryce Young No. 1 overall.”
With the benefit of hindsight I wish I could go back in time and change the title to “Why the Panthers were right to trade up and DRAFT A QUARTERBACK No. 1 overall.”
My intent last week was to be clear that until the Panthers drafted and developed a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback they would continue to be mired in the same mediocrity we as fans have been subjected to over the last five years. I fumbled the title by focusing on “drafting Bryce Young” instead of “drafting a franchise quarterback” and in the process derailed the article itself and the comments that followed. That was my fault.
Where’s Doc Brown’s DeLorean when you need it?
The reason the Panthers needed to draft and develop a franchise quarterback in 2023 is because the team has been terrible for the last five years due to bottom-tier quarterback play, and that’s unacceptable. We as passionate, dedicated Panthers fans deserve better than the team’s miserable 29-53 record between 2018 and 2022. The most proven way to turn around a struggling franchise is to draft a franchise quarterback, and I’m glad the Panthers attempted to do that this year.
So going back to last week’s article: The Panthers made the right strategic decision this year to trade up and draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall.
The unanswered question is if Carolina’s front office made the right call by drafting Bryce Young.
Neither encouraged nor discouraged
The reality is we likely won’t be able to answer that question for another two or three years. Through five games we know virtually nothing about Bryce Young’s potential or how his career will play out compared to C.J. Stroud (No. 2 overall pick) or Anthony Richardson (No. 4).
That’s not a cop out answer, either. Through five games it’s just reality.
It’s not uncommon for quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall to struggle for their first couple of seasons. They tend to get drafted by terrible teams with new coaching staffs, both of which apply to Bryce Young in Carolina. The Panthers new coaching staff is implementing a new offensive system and the team recently announced offensive coordinator Thomas Brown will now take over play calling duties from head coach Frank Reich, introducing even more change.
I’m fine admitting that I don’t scout guys coming out of college. I didn’t break down any college film between Young, Stroud, or Richardson. I watched these guys play a few games in college and was impressed with all of them. None of them were deemed “generational talents” coming out of college and my preference is bigger-bodied quarterbacks like Stroud and Richardson over smaller guys like Young, but I’ll give the Panthers talent evaluators the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
Based on what I’ve seen from Bryce Young in five professional starts I’m not overly encouraged by his play, but I’m also not discouraged, either.
The Cam Newton comparison
Looking back to when the Panthers drafted Cam Newton No. 1 overall in 2011 I was immediately encouraged by what I saw. Cam’s Pro Bowl potential just leaped off the screen.
Newton took the league by storm passing for over 400 yards in each of his first two starts while also flashing some of his generational running skills. But circumstances matter. During his rookie season Cam was throwing the ball to Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey, and a capable Brandon LaFell. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for over 2,100 scrimmage yards. The Panthers offensive line was solid, too, including mainstays Ryan Kalil, Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, and Geoff Hangartner.
But even with these advantages, through Cam Newton’s first 10 starts he completed just 60% of his passes, threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12), and the Panthers started the season just 2-8.
Now, Bryce Young isn’t Cam Newton and the 2023 Panthers offense is in a fundamentally different place than the 2011 squad. Bryce Young has stepped into difficult circumstances.
Bryce Young’s circumstances
The Panthers offensive line hasn’t performed well this year. ESPN ranks Carolina’s Pass Block Win Rate at 20th in the NFL and Run Block Win Rate at 31st, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Right tackle Taylor Moton has been consistent but left tackle Ikem Ekwonu has regressed in Year 2. Backup guards Calvin Throckmorton, Chandler Zavala, and Cade Mays have been thrust into starting roles and each has struggled (all three have PFF grades below 56). Even veteran center Bradley Bozeman hasn’t been his normal solid self with a PFF grade of 59.5, which ranks 26th among centers.
Carolina has exactly one wide receiver who can get separation and consistently provide an open target, and that’s 33-year-old Adam Thielen. Free agent DJ Chark has produced a couple of big plays but only has 13 receptions on 27 targets (a team-low 48.1% catch rate). Rookie Jonathan Mingo has 15 receptions for 133 yards but has required 29 targets to get there. Terrace Marshall Jr. has been an afterthought and is seeking a trade. Tight end Hayden Hurst has been invisible of late with just six receptions over his last four games while Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble aren’t legitimate receiving options.
The Panthers run game is averaging just 98 rushing yards per contest which ranks an anemic 23rd in the league. Opposing defenses don’t have to respect the Panthers run game and can therefore either blitz more aggressively or drop more defenders into coverage to stifle Carolina’s passing game and try to confuse a rookie quarterback. There’s a reason Bryce Young has a league-leading 19 throwaways despite playing just five games.
In other words, here’s what Bryce Young has dealt with through his first five NFL starts:
- A new coaching staff implementing a new system
- A struggling, patchwork offensive line
- Only one wide receiver who can consistently get open
- An impotent rushing attack
Any young player would struggle under those circumstances.
Let’s give Bryce Young a little grace.
Early accuracy…and lack thereof
From an accuracy standpoint per Football Reference, Bryce Young’s “On Target” pass percentage of 73.0% ranks 23rd in the NFL which is on par with guys like Matthew Stafford (73.3%), Derek Carr (73.0%), Jimmy Garoppolo (72.7%), and Joe Burrow (71.7%). That’s just fine for a rookie facing the situation Young inherited in Carolina. (Note: The original version of this article mistakenly reported Young ranked 9th in On Target pass percentage, which has been corrected.)
His 2.2% interception rate ranks 15th of 32 quarterbacks, which is just fine for a rookie, and speaks to both his accuracy and decision making.
As a smaller quarterback at just 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds, Young is going to need to learn to quickly diagnose defenses, get rid of the ball fast, and be accurate with his throws. Diminutive but accurate quarterbacks like Drew Brees (6-foot-0) and Russell Wilson (5-foot-11) have provided the template.
Under the circumstances surrounding Young during his rookie campaign - and I might be in the minority here - but I’m encouraged by his accuracy, poise in collapsing pockets, and overall decision making. As he becomes more familiar with the Panthers offensive scheme, his offensive line gets healthy, and additional playmakers are added (hopefully) in years to come, I can envision Bryce Young following the Drew Brees-Russell Wilson path as a smart, decisive, accurate quarterback who surgically picks apart opposing defenses.
That said, Bryce has thrown some really bad balls, as rookie quarterbacks are wont to do. Young’s “Bad Throw” percentage of 21.5% ranks 31st, which is second worst in the league. But guess who has the worst Bad Throw percentage in the NFL? It’s No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud at 23.2%! Anthony Richardson doesn’t qualify due to lack of attempts, but his 21.0% Bad Throw percentage would rank 29th.
Yes, the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 4 overall picks in the 2023 draft have the three worst Bad Throw percentages in the league. The adjustment from college quarterback to the pros is huge, and it’s natural for rookies to struggle.
As I said before, thus far I’m not overly encouraged by what I’ve seen from Bryce Young - meaning I’m ready to pronounce him a multiple time Pro Bowler - but I’m nowhere near being discouraged, either.
On the whole, I’m more optimistic than not from what I’ve seen from Bryce Young. Given time and an improved core around him, I think he can become a more than capable starter, but that’s just my subjective opinion.
With all due respect to Panthers fans who are ready to pull the plug on Young or have prematurely concluded he’s going to be a bust, it’s time to take a step back and see things in context.
We are two months into Bryce Young’s career.
We won’t definitively know for two or three years how good - or bad - he might be.
The overall summary
From a strategic standpoint, the Panthers made the necessary move by trading up and taking a shot at landing their franchise quarterback in the 2023 draft. The most realistic way for NFL teams to have long-term success is by drafting and developing a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback.
Had the Panthers front office not traded up in the 2023 draft to get a quarterback the team would have continued spinning on the hamster wheel of mediocrity with a subpar quarterback in 2023, gone something like 6-11 this year, drafted around No. 8 in 2024, and started next season in the same depressing position they have been in since 2018 - lacking a franchise quarterback.
At this point we don’t know if Bryce Young will be a Hall of Famer or a career backup. We don’t know if the Panthers should have taken C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson instead. We can circle back in early 2026 to settle that debate.
And until we find out, I for one am encouraged by the fact that the Panthers front office finally pulled the trigger to land their franchise quarterback, and I’m generally optimistic about what I’ve seen thus far from Bryce Young’s poise, decision making, and accuracy.
Trading up in the 2023 draft to get a franchise quarterback was the absolute right move to make.
Time will tell if the Carolina Panthers put their faith in the right guy.
Based on what you’ve seen thus far, what do you project for Bryce Young’s career?
This poll is closed
Multiple time Pro Bowler who can transform the Panthers into a contender
Above average QB who can lead the Panthers deep into the playoffs with the right supporting cast.
Perfectly average starting NFL QB but can’t consistently lead a playoff team
Below average starting QB