CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the first pick in the 2023 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers will select one of four quarterbacks. Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Will Levis (Kentucky) all have a case to be the top pick.
The Charlotte Observer is breaking down the top four quarterback prospects to analyze which of the four might be the best fit for the Panthers and new coach Frank Reich. We’ll unpack what each prospect does best, identify their ideal NFL scheme fits, and then project who they’ll become as professionals based on the shades of NFL quarterback play they already possess.
This process is based on film evaluations and conversations with scouts and evaluators around the league.
Let’s break down 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young
What Young does best
Stature aside, Young is the best quarterback in his class. As an in-pocket thrower, he distributes the football with innate anticipation. His game tape is littered with examples of the ball leaving his hands before his intended receiver opens. At Alabama, he sniped 15-yard in-breaking routes with ease. Despite playing against talented SEC defenses, Young never shied away from tight or muddy passing windows. He consistently threads passes over zone linebackers and under safeties.
His risks were rarely hazardous. As a two-year starter, he threw 80 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions and completed 66% of his passes.
All that is elevating his clean pocket throws when rhythm and timing occur as planned or drawn up. Young is at his best staring down defensive chaos. He’s an escape artist, capable of creating just enough time to throw. He slides laterally versus interior pressure and exploits defenses with poor edge discipline.
Young doesn’t run to rush. He moves to find better passing lanes. His feet are nifty, helping him play slippery. He demonstrates a rare creative escapability and is never sloppy or careless with the ball. While keeping two hands on the football, Young can routinely drop his shoulders, shimmy his frame and keep pass rushers off balance all while his eyes stay active downfield. His head rarely drops, signaling a calmness and command despite protection breaking down around him.
His arm is as multiple as his feet. Young throws with a quick-twitch flicking motion. Sometimes he wastes lower body movement by driving off his toes rather than keeping all his cleats in the ground but that is a by-product of his ability to rapidly reset and still rip. There isn’t an arm angle Young cannot use to complete a pass. He’ll throw over, around and between defenders with a circus assortment of arm angles. If there is a way to complete the pass, Young has the will to find a completion.
He’s not conditioned to throw check downs to running backs or tight ends. At times, the tape showed some puzzling short-range inaccuracies, but that can be corrected. He’ll learn to protect himself with check downs rather than constantly holding on for the big play.
“The most consistent quarterback on tape is absolutely Bryce Young,” NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein said. “He maneuvers around the pocket without dropping his eyes. He gets out of the pocket and still looks to make plays with his arm. Sometimes he can be a little slow to go to his legs and run, but that’s because he’s looking to hurt you with his arm. He can extend and make plays off-schedule. He can make plays on schedule. He throws with average timing and average arm strength, but he knows where he wants to go with the football.“
Ideal NFL scheme fit
Evaluators agree that the system Young lands in is less important than how well he is protected. At the combine, Young weighed in at 204 pounds and measured at 5 foot 10. He must be shielded behind an elite offensive line.
The fact scouts don’t tie Young to a specific style of offense speaks to his exceptional skill set. He would thrive in a West Coast system with orchestrated deep shots, or in an open-concept offense where he distributes like a point guard.
Drafting Young means committing to his artistry. His next coaching staff must build an infrastructure that gives him easy answers and simple outlets but also downfield opportunities that take time to develop. Young can make play-callers look right even when the wrong play is called. Letting him freelance within the scheme will maximize his production.
“You have to put a good offensive line in front of him, especially on the interior,” The Draft Network’s Damian Parson said. “Because he can make guys miss off the edge. He’s so quick and twitchy. He can step up and escape out of an edge rush. Guys push past him and he navigates the pocket that way.”
Shades of which NFL QB?
Young is a difficult projection.
Because of their nearly identical measurables, Young will always be compared to Cardinals quarterback and former No. 1 pick Kyler Murray. But the two play very differently. Young has similar in-pocket twitch but plays quarterback with a far more natural feel. Murray wants to gash defenses with his legs while Young is always thinking throw first.
Young threw into tighter collegiate windows than C.J. Stroud did playing the Big Ten. He’s as Sunday-ready as it gets for a prospect largely because he plays with supreme confidence. His variety of arm angles is reminiscent of Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
The Panthers’ front office should find film cut-ups of Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray that remind them of Bryce Young. Then compare those highlights to similar Young plays and accurately decipher why his athleticism and play-making ability will fully transfer to the NFL.
Young is worthy of the No. 1 pick only if his trajectory avoids similar pitfalls of other highly touted short quarterbacks.