Update: On Nov. 27, 2023, the Carolina Panthers fired Frank Reich.
We need to slow down for a second.
Bryce Young was the first overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. 11 weeks into his pro career, not much has gone right for him or the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are among the league’s very worst and do not even hold the rights to their own pick in next April’s draft, which is widely expected to end up in the top three.
To compare, the quarterback drafted after him, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, has become a sensation and leader in the revival of the Houston Texans.
So, should we be panicking about Young’s progress? Not at all. There have been other top quarterback selections who suffered in their rookie seasons and eventually turned it around to great successes in their careers.
The most significant of these was Peyton Manning. Drafted to a Colts team that went 3-13 in 1997, Manning showed flashes of brilliance but ultimately threw 28 interceptions as the Colts replicated their record from the prior year. After the Colts drafted Edgerrin James the next year, Manning took a big step forward as a player, cutting his interception count in half. He continued to get better as a player from there.
Another rookie who struggled was Troy Aikman. Drafted first overall in 1989, Aikman lost all 11 starts he made as a rookie as the Cowboys sunk to their worst-ever record of 1-15. In those 11 starts, Aikman threw for only 1,700 yards and nine touchdowns against 18 interceptions, a stat line that looks very similar to Young’s at the moment (with 10 extra interceptions).
The Cowboys immediately got to work that offseason, drafting Emmitt Smith with the 17th pick. In the next two drafts, the Cowboys would add defensive help (Russell Maryland and Darren Woodson), along with another offensive lineman in Erik Williams. With the stalwarts from the teams of the late 1980s that stayed around and the crop of talent they added to help Aikman, the Cowboys would become the team of the 1990s decade, winning three Super Bowl rings and making the playoffs in all but one of the remaining years that decade.
The Present Situation
Analyzing the Panthers’ present roster gives us clues as to what’s really going on. Young has taken a staggering 36 sacks through 10 games this season behind a banged-up and inexperienced offensive line. Bradley Bozeman is the most experienced of the bunch, currently in the midst of his sixth pro season. Everyone else on the Panthers’ line has spent less than four years in the league, and frequent injuries and shuffling of the deck leave Young frequently having to break out of the pocket and take sacks as a result.
Even when Young can get the ball out, there isn’t much trust in his supporting cast. The Panthers’ offense includes an aging Adam Thielen, an assortment of younger players and cast-offs (such as Laviska Shenault Jr.), and Miles Sanders and Chuba Hubbard in the backfield.
The less said about Ejiro Evero’s defense, the second-worst unit in the league, the better.
What Can The Panthers Learn Next Offseason?
The common link between the historical precedents mentioned above and plenty of other examples through the decades? Build around your rookie signal-caller. Young is not at all a bust. He has simply inherited the starting job of a team that never recovered from the end of its most successful era with both Ron Rivera and Cam Newton leaving the team in 2019.
To get Young on track again, he needs game-changers in the backfield like what Manning and Aikman had in James and Smith. He also needs an offensive line that can keep him in the pocket long enough to actually get the ball out on time and not feel the need to rush around, take a sack, or make ill-advised throws.
As stated, the Panthers do not own their top selection in next April’s draft. They only own six picks, with their first being No. 33 overall. It will be a challenge to overcome, but with smart drafting and free-agent pickups over the next few years, Young can absolutely progress into a star and the failures of this rookie season will feel like a bad dream.
"A lot of guys would fold under this pressure."
Brian Burns on how Bryce Young has handled things this season. pic.twitter.com/TeN0CYZI5W
— Carolina Blitz (@KeepBlitzin) November 20, 2023
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