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NFL Draft: At No. 1 Panthers get Alabama's Bryce Young, who is a unique QB prospect

Bryce Young could change perceptions of what NFL teams look for in a quarterback.

When the Carolina Panthers announced Young was the first pick of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, ahead of some quarterbacks with the size that teams have historically wanted at that position, Young became one of one.

No quarterback who has weighed less than 207 pounds has been drafted in the first round since at least 2003, according to NFL.com. At the NFL scouting combine, he measured a little over 5-foot-10, 204 pounds. And Young wasn't just a first-round pick, he was first overall. NFL teams have height and weight prototypes for a reason. Being a short quarterback presents challenges in a game played by behemoths on the lines. Weighing less than 210 pounds makes a quarterback more susceptible to injury on big blind-side hits.

Young is such a good prospect that it didn't matter. He was ranked as the top quarterback in the draft by most analysts. The Panthers made a big trade with the Chicago Bears to get the first pick, and they were smitten with Young's production and skills and not concerned about his height.

Young is either going to fail to live up to his college hype, and everyone will say the Panthers should have seen it coming because he didn't match the prototype. Or he'll dominate like he did at Alabama, and it will open doors for more quarterbacks who have been told they're not big enough to be an NFL star.

He could force teams to look past size, and focus on the other things that can make a great quarterback.

Quarterback Bryce Young will head to the Panthers as the No. 1 pick of the draft. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
Quarterback Bryce Young will head to the Panthers as the No. 1 pick of the draft. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Panthers hope they've found a QB answer

The Panthers aren't a team that has taken decades to find a quarterback, though it seems that way.

The last time they invested in a quarterback like they did Thursday, it was Cam Newton with the first pick of the 2011 draft. Newton was a fantastic quarterback for the Panthers through the decade, including an MVP and Super Bowl appearance.

But when you don't have a quarterback, the search for one can seem endless.

After Newton left following the 2019 season, the team signed Teddy Bridgewater. Then the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold. After that, it was Baker Mayfield. The Panthers haven't had a winning season since 2017 and quarterback play has been the biggest issue. Team owner David Tepper, who took over right as Newton was declining, wanted a permanent fix. New head coach Frank Reich, who was on the year-by-year quarterback carousel with the Indianapolis Colts, has to be happy to know he can build around Young.

The Panthers didn't seem to have a big problem with Young's size. General manager Scott Fitterer pointed out that Young had fewer passes batted down last season than Russell Wilson, who is 5-11, had in his final college season. Fitterer was in the Seattle Seahawks' front office when the team drafted Wilson, and they had tremendous success with Wilson.

If the Panthers were unbothered by Young's height, drafting him first overall was easy. He checks every other box.

Young is a high upside prospect

Young doesn't have a fatal flaw as a quarterback other than potentially, you know, the size thing. He has enough arm strength to make all the throws, he's athletic, he sees the field very well and his production at Alabama — and at powerhouse Santa Ana (California) Mater Dei High School, if you want to add that — was off the charts. Even when you account for Young's Crimson Tide teammates generally being better than most opponents, he put up otherworldly numbers (8,200 yards, 79 touchdowns over 27 games the past two seasons).

The Panthers played it coy for more than a month after trading up to the No. 1 pick, not revealing their target. Carolina gave up a lot to get the first pick, sending the ninth overall pick and a second-rounder this year, a first-round pick in 2024, a second-round pick in 2025 and star receiver D.J. Moore to the Bears. It's impossible to believe they'd do that without being sold on a prospect, which was revealed to be Young.

Young wouldn't be the first quarterback at or below the 6-foot threshold to have NFL success. Drew Brees is one of only two players with 80,000 career passing yards. Wilson has made nine Pro Bowls. Both have a Super Bowl ring. But both were also downgraded in the draft despite stellar college careers; Brees went in the second round and Wilson was a third-rounder. Young is the next step in that evolution.

The Panthers made their big bet Thursday night, hoping Young is an outlier who gets them out of their quarterback mess.