Bryce Young’s first preseason is in the books, and Panthers fans should be very, very excited. The No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft quietly played some of the best football we’ve ever seen from a first-year quarterback in preseason, but there’s a reason you probably didn’t about it: It never materialized in the box score.
Across Carolina’s three preseason games, Young played what was tantamount to one full game of football. If we mash all his stats together it really doesn’t look very impressive: 14-of-24, 129 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT and a 87.0 passer rating — but the devil is in the details. Inside of those four quarters of football resided a rookie who played so far beyond his years it’s almost impossible to comprehend that he’s a rookie. Essentially, we saw everything that Young was hyped to be play out on the field.
This is one of Young’s most remarkable traits. I’ll be honest: One of my biggest concerns for Young entering the NFL was that the size and speed of play might overwhelm him in the pocket, and as a result we’d see his fundamentals break down a little.
Carolina’s pass blocking was garbage in preseason with mammoth issues along the line still needing to be rectified, but at no point did Young make a bad play — not a single one. Every passing down he confidently stepped up in the pocket, went through his full read, set his feet for throws, and made the correct football decision, even when that meant taking a big shot.
The Panthers really need to limit how many of those big hits Young takes, but across the three preseason games he did everything you’d want to see from him under center. It’s really early to make lofty comparisons, but I’ll be damned if Young didn’t look and play like Drew Brees — to whom he’s so often compared. At no point did he look too small for the game, and he displayed the same type of field general traits that truly great QBs have.
One of the most fundamental characteristics that separates good quarterbacks from great ones is the trust in receivers and playcalling that comes from anticipation. Look at any throw by quarterbacks on Sunday and you see the difference between the passers who are able to see what’s open, and those who are able to predict what’s going to be open.
Look at this screenshot from Week 2 against the Giants.
Fellow rookie Jonathan Mingo at the bottom of the screen is running a 10-yard hinge route. This look out of 4-vert is designed to feign a shot downfield to pressure DBs to cover deep, which opens up the stop route to move the chains.
Mingo is at the 29 yard line, and he’s still looking downfield while Bryce is in the middle of his motion. The expectation from the quarterback is that his receiver will stop at the 30, hinge back to the 29 and catch the ball — before turning up field for YAC.
This play wasn’t perfect. We can see from the image above that Dexter Lawrence has free release on the QB, which manifests itself as a hand in the face. Young still gets the ball off, but it’s a touch low — which is compounded when Mingo runs the route too deep. Mingo doesn’t come back for the ball until he reaches the 32 yard line, which means he needs to try and catch around his feet, rather than his numbers — which is where the ball would have been if he came back two yards earlier.
There are elements both Young and Mingo can do better here, but it’s a fairly minor concern. The real power of this moment comes from Young standing in the pocket, knowing he’s going to get drilled by Lawrence (one of the best DTs in the NFL) and still manages to make a timing throw into a tight window.
Moments like this happen time and time again when you watch the tape on Young. He’s constantly putting the ball in the air with anticipation. Bryce’s final throw against the Giants was a 3rd and 20 nightmare with the sticks set at the two yard line. There’s not a great play here, but again: Young goes through all his reads and decides to target Hayden Hurst running an out route.
Young’s arm is again in its throwing motion and Hurst hasn’t made the first step of his out yet. The quarterback sees not only that the out is likely open here, but that he has a size mismatch with Hurst (6’4) on a much smaller DB. What do you do to ensure this pass is successful? You throw high to accentuate that mismatch.
Hurst jumps for the ball at full extension, giving him all the advantage on the ball, and it’s a completion. This is a big time NFL throw, and Bryce makes it look easy. Furthermore, compare these last two screens from where Young is releasing the ball to where Hurst is catching it. Before the TE makes his break Young is throwing four yards downfield from his receiver, and four yards to his right. He trusts his guy will be there when the ball is there — and the two make it look easy.
All the poise and anticipation in the world means nothing if you don’t have the arm talent to back it up. While Bryce Young doesn’t have the cannon arm of the other rookies in the first round, he has more than enough arm talent to throw in and out of structure to make any play needed in the NFL. Placement on damn near every throw was spot on, putting the ball on the numbers in hitches, on the face mask towards the sideline, or high (like above) when there was a mismatch.
It lends credence to the whole reason Young was seen as a No. 1 pick, which is that he was a “point guard” of the offense with the ability to always put his receivers in the best position to succeed. That didn’t always play out, largely because Carolina has a mountain to climb when it comes to WR talent needed, but it puts the team in a tremendous position to succeed if/when they can build the roster around him.
But don’t take my word for it …
Even though we have a relatively small sample size to work off, here’s what J.T. O’Sullivan said on “The QB School” about what he saw from Young in preseason.:
“I think the tape look a lot like the tape we saw in college. Dude is a playmaker. Dude is pinpoint accurate, can put the ball where he wants. Plays with anticipation. Plays with great feel and poise and rhythm. I just think there’s a lot to like.”
This doesn’t mean it’s going to be a runaway success for the Panthers
There are still huge issues that Carolina needs to address if they hope to get everything possible out of Bryce Young. The protection has been really poor this preseason, and when you pair that with a smaller quarterback it’s a big-time worry, even if jokes about Young’s size make that more pronounced. You never want to see a QB take too many unnecessary hits, and Bryce has taken a lot so far.
Receiver is still a problem. Jonathan Mingo has shown flashes, but it’s far from perfect and needs more time to develop as a rookie. Adam Thielen is old enough to the point he isn’t the same quick-twitch receiver he was for the Vikings. He’s a step slower now, and doesn’t get in and out of his breaks as quickly — limiting YAC potential. If D.J. Chark continues to have hamstring problems it could be an issue for much of this season.
Right now it feels like Bryce Young is treasure chest the team hasn’t found the key for yet. If they manage to put it together we could see something very special, because my goodness Young has looked phenomenal so far.