The buyer's remorse that comes with mortgaging off future draft picks to take a player, only to then realize he wasn't worth the top investment, is nothing to joke around about. Just five games into Bryce Young's tenure as the Panthers' quarterback, it appears team owner David Tepper and his staff fell in love with the wrong signal-caller in the 2023 draft, as C.J. Stroud continues to impress with the Texans.
Let's not pretend Stroud was that much better than Young coming out of Ohio State, or widely considered a superior prospect. He wasn't. It was Young who awed scouts with his 47-touchdown sophomore campaign with Alabama back in 2021, and became the long-awaited prize for the team that finished with the worst record in 2022. But, just as the case with any other player, there was no telling how Young's highlight-reel plays and brimming potential would translate at the NFL level.
Young's 5-foot-10 frame quickly became a concern at the Scouting Combine. But then we crossed that off the list, and pointed to all of the undersized NFL quarterbacks. Then fans pointed to the plethora of weapons around Young at Alabama and the lack of competition in non-SEC play. But Tua Tagovailoa was in a similar situation a few years earlier, and overcame the deficiencies on his resume. One by one the lengthy NFL Draft process allowed fans and analysts to downplay the concerns, while emphasizing the numbers and upside.
By the time the Panthers dealt multiple first-round picks and star receiver DJ Moore to the Bears for the top overall pick, there was little doubt that Young was the apple of their eye. Not only did he look like the obvious choice, but second guessing themselves and getting punished for it could've had even larger repercussions. Plus, newly-hired coach Frank Reich was viewed as a "quarterback whisperer" who could get the most out of anyone. Not quite.
Three of Carolina's five losses this season have come by two scores or more. They've also been outscored by 42 points during this span, and appear to be the NFL's worst team. If only USC's Caleb Williams was just waiting at the end of the tunnel, it'd be easier to tolerate the Panthers' on-field disaster. But, the Bears will be getting that high draft pick instead. Young was also supposed to be the franchise savior that Williams is perceived to be. Admitting they made a mistake with Young would be too hard for the Panthers to do this early, and Tepper's ego would probably prevent him from doing so anyway.
To be fair, Young's early struggles that've seen him throw five touchdowns to four interceptions aren't entirely his fault. Rookie quarterbacks need a steady environment to learn and grow in and he’s been given the opposite. There's a palpable tension between Reich and the Panthers' front office, verified when he admitted to regularly meeting with them to iron out the kinks. That type of distraction can be detrimental to a young player's growth and development -- as evidenced by Trevor Lawrence who was hampered by the antics of coach Urban Meyer during his 13 games with the Jaguars.
Despite having a rough go of it, Reich couldn't resist the urge to compare his new youngster with Tagovailoa, who's played at an MVP-caliber level with the Dolphins. "[Young and Tagovailoa] have quick release, accurate, can throw at different arm angles, get the ball all over the field," Reich told reporters earlier this week. "Good decision-makers, not runners but enough mobility to move the pocket and make the play."
While Tagovailoa's comparable stature and traits provide reason for optimism in regard to Young's growth, the quarterbacks are in two completely different situations. Tagovailoa has a better play-caller in head coach Mike McDaniel. He's surrounded by superior talent and has organizational support, from the top down. Confirmation bias about their similarities exist to provide Carolina with a sense of comfort, but Young and Tagovailoa are very different players.
Instead of selectively comparing Young to his Alabama predecessor, perhaps it'd be better to consider what the quarterback drafted one pick after him has done. Part of the reason why this is tricky? The body of work Stroud's putting together makes it impossible not to think about the what-ifs.
At 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, Stroud has the perfect build for today's quarterback. He led his team to back-to-back win over the Jaguars and Steelers. He's also yet to throw an interception this season. Not only is Stroud an early Rookie of the Year candidate, but he also appears to be the solution at quarterback for Houston moving forward.
Although no one can blame the Panthers for going with their gut on draft day, the selection of Young has the makings of a decision that'll haunt the fanbase for a long time. Yes, it's still early, and people like to overreact to small sample sizes, but the early returns seem representative of future results in this setup. Some fans may consider the Panthers' situation a nightmare. But, realistically, this was inevitable from the moment the team handed in its draft card.