Thursday, the Carolina Panthers (2-6) and the Chicago Bears (1-7) will square off in one of the worst primetime matchups in recent memory. The only thing really on the line here is draft position, or it would be if Carolina hadn’t traded their pick to Chicago for the right to draft Bryce Young, who currently ranks 31st in Passing Total Points/snap, right below Tyson Bagent. That’s right – Young is arguably not even the best quarterback in a game where his counterpart is an undrafted rookie out of a Division II school in West Virginia. And, if you were curious: just ahead of those two is Mac Jones, whom Young lost a quarterback competition to in college, and who presumably will be out of work come 2024.
The Bryce Young experiment has failed in Carolina. It would be one thing if Young was struggling early and had some bankable traits, but this is what happens when you take size outliers with no distinguishing qualities outside of collegiate production. Kyler Murray may be tiny, but at least he runs a 4.3 and can throw the football a country mile. What’s Young got up his sleeve? He was a ‘winner’ and a ‘playmaker’ in college? Okay, sure, but there are a lot of guys like that who never pan out in the NFL. Are we even working with any tangible traits here?
Yes, his supporting cast is bad. Life in Carolina would not be easy for any quarterback, but he is not the only one who has to make the best of a bad situation. Zach Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Josh Dobbs, Mac Jones, and Tyson Bagent have all, to varying degrees, played under suboptimal conditions this year, and they’ve all been more efficient than Young has. The No. 1 pick should be able to do better than this.
Trevor Lawrence played on the Urban Meyer-led Jaguars in 2021 and struggled quite a bit as a rookie, but he wasn’t below replacement level through the first nine weeks of the season. He wasn’t being outperformed by a 36-year-old Andy Dalton on his fourth team in as many years. And since we’re talking about Dalton, his 58 attempts and 3 sacks have resulted in 79 more EPA than Young’s 252 throws and 26 sacks – entirely because Young is so far in the red.
So, what the hell, man?
The receivers aren’t great at getting open, sure. They’re 20th in our receiving Total Points metric as a group, and I’m certainly not gonna go to bat for a unit that’s led by Adam Thielen in the twilight of his career. But, they could be worse, and Dalton has the highest contested throw rate in the league among quarterbacks with 50+ attempts (37%) while Young has one of the lowest at 24%. Part of that is a function of aggressiveness, but why was Dalton able to perform better while a higher percentage of his attempts were contested?
The answer is in all of our hearts, and it’s that Young is not as well-suited to the NFL as he was to the college game.
This is not a Josh Allen rookie season we’re talking about. Young is listed at a generous 5’10”, 204 lbs., doesn’t have outstanding arm talent, and is not particularly fast or elusive. If your physical profile sets your floor, his is pretty low. This is a player who drew pre-draft comparisons to Drew Brees, and it’s clear he will have to win in other areas to succeed in the NFL. As of right now, that is very discouraging.
He’s not seeing the pro game quickly at the moment. He has the fifth-highest expected snap-to-throw +/- time, with scramblers and Jimmy Garoppolo being the only players who get the ball out slower than him. And, in spite of that, he also has the second-lowest ADOT in the league. 63% of his throws travel 5 yards or less downfield, which is the second-highest rate in the league. Taking a long time to check the ball down or execute quick game concepts is not good. Some would even say it’s bad!
Now, to his credit, his turnover-worthy throw rate is slightly better than average (he ranks 16th). But, as we saw on Sunday against the Colts, he’s not exactly playing mistake-free football, either. And, on that note, his interceptions have been ghoulishly bad. The only quarterbacks whose picks have hemorrhaged more EPA are Sam Howell (who has no object permanence) and Mac Jones (who, as a reminder, beat Young out in college when Young came in as the No. 1 recruit).
When he finally throws the ball, he hasn’t been particularly accurate. He ranks 32nd in the league in expected on-target over expectation (xOnTgt +/-) at -5%, which is well below average and weighed down by his abhorrent xOnTgt +/- on contested throws (-23%). On throws to open targets, he ranks 22nd.
He hasn’t, however, thrown the ball a lot because he’s not been navigating the rush well. He’s been sacked at the 8th-highest rate in the league and he has the 6th-worst sack-to-pressure ratio (i.e. a lot of hurries turn into sacks against him). A good part of that is his offensive line, which is 27th in blown block rate on pass plays, but he has ownership of this, too.
So, we’re talking about a player who takes a long time to get the ball out, who checks it down a lot, whose pocket presence isn’t great, who isn’t a run threat, who doesn’t have the arm talent to access tight windows or make circus throws, but can deliver the ball accurately at a slightly below average rate if the pocket is clean and his receivers get open.
That’s not a No. 1 pick.
That’s not a franchise quarterback.
All due respect to Bryce Young – he’s a Heisman winner and a legend of the sport. People will remember him for decades to come. He’s immortal. But, this is the NFL. Everybody was good in college, and none of that matters now. On Sundays, he’s a historic size outlier with average traits swimming upstream. I hope he proves me wrong. The NFL is a much better spectator sport when the quarterback play is good, and recently it seems we’re losing more than we’re gaining. I guess we’ll always have college.