It's not fun watching the Carolina Panthers’ offense. It's just not. There's no part of it that brings any football joy to anybody.
That's not what it should feel like with a No.1 pick at quarterback. That's not what it should feel like with Bryce Young, specifically.
This time last year, Young was wheeling and dealing all over SEC defenses in one of the least-talented Alabama offenses we've seen in a decade. The creativity, the play-making, the accuracy — it oozed off the screen whenever Young was playing in college. Being pint-sized didn't matter then, so why would it matter in the NFL, right?
Thursday night's 16-13 loss to the Chicago Bears was a reminder that this isn't college anymore. The big show is different. NFL players are bigger, faster and stronger. It takes a different kind of athlete to be a game-changer in the NFL.
Young, to this point, hasn't looked like he can keep up.
Let's get all the caveats out of the way first: It's not all Young's fault he has been one of the least productive rookie quarterbacks this century.
Frank Reich said it’s too easy to put the blame on Bryce Young. pic.twitter.com/aG9XyANb9z
— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) November 10, 2023
There isn't a single good pass catcher on the Panthers' roster. Adam Thielen is a solid veteran presence, but he's not NFL "good" anymore. He's the brand of useful that would be awesome if he was the team's No.3 wide receiver, serving as a trust-chain mover and third-and-short weapon. Instead, he's the team's leading target getter — by a lot.
The rest of the receiving corps can not separate. Every single person watching Panthers games would tell you that, but so do the numbers. According to ESPN Analytics, TE Hayden Hurst and WRs DJ Chark (who did not play in tonight's game), Terrace Marshall and Jonathan Mingo all rank 78th or worse in "open" score.
Mingo — second on the team in targets — ranks 104th. ESPN only ranks 114 players. Granted, that's in part because Carolina is trying to play Mingo out of position as a big boy outside receiver when he's really more of a slot field stretcher, but that just helps explain the Panthers' problems, doesn't it?
It's not like Carolina's offensive line is any better either. In fact, it might be worse.
The play immediately after allowing a sack, Ickey Ekwonu gets his QB crushed again
hit by Kayvon
Nothing else to say other than - it's been a brutal preseason for Ickey pic.twitter.com/El4ipd0T6U
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 18, 2023
According to TruMedia, the Panthers' offensive line ranks 23rd in pressure rate allowed this season. That's not good, but it's not terrible. It feels so, so much worse when you watch them, though. LT Ickey Ekwonu hasn't followed up his strong finish from last season, and the rest of the group is a mishmash ensemble of shaky vets and backups thrust into the lineup due to injury. That's not a safe environment for any quarterback, much less someone of Young's stature.
All of that is reason enough for Carolina's offense to not be lighting the world on fire. You can't blame Young for not doing numbers with that group. There aren't many rookie quarterbacks over the past two decades who would look like future stars playing with this supporting cast.
Young has been downright bad, though. Not "shaky for a young guy" or "inconsistent with flashes" bad —historically bad. Young's production to this point is as concerning as it gets for any quarterback in the modern era.
On a per drop-back basis, Young is in dangerous company. Young is at -0.19 EPA per drop-back on the season so far. That ranks 70th out of the 78 rookie quarterbacks with at least 150 pass attempts since 2000, per TruMedia. The average over that span is -0.4 EPA per drop-back. Young isn't sniffing that anytime soon.
Somehow, that isn't the most concerning stat. It's unsettling, to be sure, but a team could maybe live with horrific production if Young was trying stuff — if he was really letting loose out there. Rookies make mistakes, and some dudes have to learn the hard way. That's life in the NFL.
But that's not been the case. At all.
TruMedia's air yards per attempt tracking only goes back to 2006, but Young is the least aggressive rookie quarterback over that span. He's averaging 6.4 air yards per attempt this year. That's 65th out of 65 qualifying quarterbacks. In some cruel twist of irony, the quarterback right above him is Jimmy Claussen, sitting at 6.5 air yards per attempt.
Those stats are partly a scheme and personnel problem. There's a lot of screens in Carolina's offense, and the offensive line pushes Young to check down early quite a lot. Nobody is going to argue otherwise.
It's very much a Young problem as well, though.
Think about Young's build. At 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds, it's harder for Young to stand tall and see from the pocket. It is literally harder for him to do that than every other NFL quarterback not named Kyler Murray.
That matters when you need to wait in the pocket longer to see deep routes develop, especially routes that are later in the progression. Young just isn't getting to and throwing those routes on a consistent basis right now. Again, I know that's partly an offensive line issue, as well, but he's not doing that often enough even when he has a chance.
Bryce Young: "We're all frustrated."
Says defense played great. "We've got to be better. I've got to be better."
— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) November 10, 2023
But what about Russell Wilson and Murray? Those guys have made a living throwing down the field and making aggressive throws despite their height. Hell, it might be the thing those two do best. So what gives with Young?
He just doesn't have that kind of arm. Wilson and Murray, just as examples, were both baseball players. Murray was an outfielder, and he sure throws like it when he really rips a throw. There's no doubt he and Wilson can spin the ball.
Young, by contrast, always won in college with timing and precision. He's got that feathery touch. He can put the ball where it needs to be, but it takes time to get there. That's all good and well in college, but NFL windows are tougher to identify and close faster.
Trying to win with timing and precision, while also not being tall enough to consistently hang in the pocket, is a really tough way to live. It's got to be one or the other, at worst.
The good news for Young is he will get a long runway to figure it out. First overall picks usually get a long leash to begin with, but the Panthers don't have a first-round pick in 2024 on account of giving it up to go get Young. There's no doubt Young is the guy for the next year and a half. He has plenty of time to find his way in this league.
We can only hope that all the experience Young is getting right now will be helpful down the line and that the roster isn't a complete disaster next season.
Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.