Is Bryce Young an NFL Draft bust? How Panthers rookie QB’s declining outlook led to Frank Reich firing

The Panthers had plenty of offseason optimism this year when they hired Frank Reich as their new head coach and traded for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. After only 11 games, Reich has been fired and there are real questions about whether rookie franchise quarterback Bryce Young is already a major draft bust.

While Carolina conducts yet another coaching search under fickle and demanding owner David Tepper, there are concerns on whether the organization might also make a quick, rash decision about Young. Whoever pushed for Young’s selection, the key now is getting him on the right track to live up to his lofty pedigree.

It’s fair to consider whether Young is headed the way of 2021 high first-rounders Zach Wilson and Trey Lance or is set up for a promising career turnaround, following 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

Let’s explore both the good and bad of Young’s NFL outlook beyond his tumultuous season in Carolina:

MORE: Where Frank Reich ranks among shortest NFL head coach stints in history

Why Bryce Young already seems like a bust

Among eight notable rookie quarterbacks making starts in 2023, the direct comparisons haven’t helped Young’s cause. From stellar runaway offensive rookie of the year C.J. Stroud, who went No. 2 overall, to undrafted fill-in Tommy DeVito, Young has struggled to be an efficient passer in relation. Here’s first looking where he ranks, shockingly right near the bottom:

NFL rookie QBs in 2023, ranked by efficiency 

Quarterback Passer rating
C.J. Stroud, Texans 100.8
Tommy DeVito, Giants 92.4
Will Levis, Titans 88.2
Anthony Richardson, Colts 87.3
Aidan O’Connell, Raiders 76.4
Bryce Young, Panthers 74.9
Tyson Bagent, Bears 71.4
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Browns 50.6

Here’s a look at Young’s key numbers that have added up to that statistical disappointment over 10 starts: 187.7 passing yards per game, 9 TDs, 8 INTs, 61.7 completion percentage, 5.4 yards per attempt. He also has rushed for a modest 161 yards given how much athleticism is an asset.

Those will stand for what he did under Reich, with some play-calling for a stretch from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. Young also has taken 40 sacks, down near the bottom of the league with the Jets’ Wilson and the Commanders’ Sam Howell. Young, as you might expect from his lacking experience, has made bad decisions in forcing the ball into coverage, leading to some big mistakes.

Young has seemed sometimes skittish with little support from the offensive line, an inconsistent rushing attack and limited receiving weapons. He’s worked through two play-callers. There are concerns that his undersized frame (5-10, 194 pounds) is becoming an NFL issue, especially given how many hits and sacks have been racked up against him.

Go figure that Young’s best game and only win as a rookie starting QB so far came from outplaying and beating Stroud head-to-head at Carolina in Week 8. Other than that game, it’s been a rough rookie slate. 

That all doesn’t sound promising for Young in Year 2 and beyond as there will be new offensive system to learn soon. But with the big if of the team of doing the right things to help him improve after taking those lumps, there’s promise and precedent that a split from Reich can be a good thing.

Why Bryce Young won’t be NFL Draft bust

As the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, Peyton Manning led the league with 28 interceptions as a rookie and rated only 71.2. As the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, Lawrence tied for the league lead with 17 interceptions as a rookie and rated only 71.9.

Whether looking at a different time for rookie QBs or a more modern example, top draft picks shouldn’t be dumped in the direction of all-time outlier JaMarcus Russell so quickly. Somewhere in between Manning’s Hall of Fame career and Lawrence’s promising one, there’s also Jared Goff, as the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, emerged as a from an 0-7 rookie nightmare to be a fine long-time starting QB.

Young’s physical and mental makeup suggests he can and will much better than he’s performed as a rookie. But it will take the Panthers making the right coaching and personnel investments around him, as Manning, Lawrence and Goff all experienced.

Early in his first offseason, Young sold the Panthers on his great leadership and intangibles to the point there was no question he would start immediately as a rookie. There was nothing fluky about him playing at an incredibly high level for Nick Saban and Alabama’s offense in college, stamping his college career with both a national championship and a Heisman.

That’s even greater credentials than Manning and Lawrence had in college and more in line with the double that now elite Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, delivered at LSU.

MORE: Comparing Bryce Young vs. C.J. Stroud’s stats in 2023

Young deserves better than the initial dysfunctional environment he got in Carolina. The offensive line needs to either pushed up to its potential for changes need to be made. Adam Thielen is a nice veteran security blanket and Jonathan Mingo has some juice as a rookie, but the Panthers need to get at least two more reliable weapons through wide receiver and tight end. It also was ludicrous to spend too much at running back to bring in Miles Sanders and when Chuba Hubbard has been healthier and better.

GM Scott Fitterer gave up high draft capital to get Young on top of a go-to wide receiver, D.J. Moore, who could have been plenty of help to him. When an organization does that, it must go through different avenues to protect and best develop in the investment.

The Panthers are hoping to set up a fast and great do-over, much like the Jaguars did replacing Urban Meyer with Doug Pederson for Lawrence. But the Jaguars also got getting aggressive in 2022 free agency to upgrade around him and then built on that with the low-risk, high-reward trade for Calvin Ridley.

Is it the young quarterback, or is it the system? That’s not an easy question to answer, because sometimes the answer is both. Often, the system doesn’t put a young quarterback in the right position to succeed, and then the young quarterback tries to do too much and presses while trying to overcome the system. 

As for this Young quarterback, it would be silly for Panthers or anyone else to write him off. The bust question can really only be answered when revisited in two more seasons.

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