Stop the presses if you’ve heard this one before, but Bryce Young is building a reputation as one of the more polarizing quarterbacks to ever hit the draft process. Blessed with creativity akin to Salvador Dali, Young can work wonders on a football field, but his diminutive size and frame are anomalies in every sense of the word.
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For the past two seasons, Young has been the best quarterback in college football. While Alabama hasn’t dominated the college football landscape in recent years with Young at the helm, it’s hard to deny Young’s talent. He’s the first-ever Alabama player to throw for 3,000 yards in separate seasons, he set single-season school records for passing yards (4,872) and passing touchdowns (47) and finished his career No. 2 in passing yards (8,536) and touchdowns (80).
Statistically, Young had one of the better two-year stints in college football history and did it all at a time when things weren’t all that rosy for the Crimson Tide. They missed out on the CFB playoffs in 2022, a year after losing to Georgia 33-18 in the National Championship Game, with an 11-2 record, with losses against LSU and Tennessee, not enough to propel them into the postseason. In 2022, Young had a pretty poor supporting cast around him. Despite that, his ability shone through.
Young wins in ways that not a lot of quarterbacks do. He doesn’t have the rocket arm like Will Levis or Anthony Richardson, and by NFL standards he probably has an average arm, but his arm talent is off the charts. He has the ability to throw from multiple arm slots, allowing him to layer the ball over defenders, or bend throws around them to hit intended targets. He can do it all while off-platform, on the move, or under pressure too.
Young wins with his creativity
Everything stems from his exceptional creativity. The sleight of hand pocket movement to buy himself and his receivers more time to get open, his ability to play out of structure and throw while moving either left or right, and the fact he’s just so unbothered by pressure. Young is as confident and calm as they come, and it’s all an extension of what makes him so special.
Anticipation. Something every good quarterback has to have. The art of feeling and seeing a player come open before they even are, placing the ball to where they’ll be, not necessarily where they are. Young has it in abundance, more so than any other quarterback in the class. And there comes a time when you have to stop looking at the height concerns and concentrate on Young on a trait-for-trait basis compared to his peers.
An issue with smaller quarterbacks is that they generally struggle to attack the middle of the field, their vision obscured among the trees of offensive linemen and defensive linemen waging war at the line of scrimmage. But for all of the concerns, Young might attack the middle of the field better than any draft-eligible quarterback. He’s a bucket-getter. A crafty playmaker archetype that’s thriving in today’s NFL.
As talent goes, the 2023 quarterback class has it in abundance. Richardson has an incredibly high ceiling, but it might take time to unlock him, C.J. Stroud is an excellent passer with a supposed ceiling, and Levis has a cannon of an arm but needs some refining of his own. Young, though, is the consensus No. 1 quarterback. But he still isn’t always predicted to go first overall.
Intangibly and trait-wise, Young is an excellent prospect and the most talented quarterback in the class for a reason. It’s all there on film, but so is the glaring weakness of his game. The thing that potentially has NFL teams having existential crises over.
His size comes into question
His size. At around 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Young is historically small for the quarterback position. He weighed in at the combine at 204 lbs, but it’s hard to believe that his playing weight will be anything close to that unless he does tack on anything that isn’t water weight. That’ll have to happen at some point, but there’s minimal potential for growth. Quarterbacks of Young’s stature just don’t get drafted, especially at number one. A relatively close historical comparison is Kyler Murray, but even that feels way off. Murray is a significantly better athlete with an extra 17 or so pounds of extra weight. They’re vastly different body types and vastly different athletes with marginally similar playstyles. The real historical comparison, at least in terms of body type, is closer to Doug Flutie, who was 5-foot-10, 180 pounds during his playing days. But the closest comparison being a player who was drafted in the 11th round of the 1985 NFL Draft isn’t a flex. It’s an obvious worry.
It stands to reason that every quarterback will work better with a strong offensive line in front of them, but it might matter a little more for Young because of his frame. So, with the Panthers and the Texans sitting with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, respectively, they feel like plausible destinations. The Panthers’ line was much-improved in 2022, while the Texans have made improvements along the line in the offseason and re-signed Laremy Tunsil to a new deal.
Taking hits at the NFL level is going to be a real trial by fire, especially when those hits are going to be delivered by some of the biggest physical freaks you’ve ever seen. Young isn’t going to be able to slip tackles as easily as he did in college, and though he’s generally unphased under pressure, that could change as pockets get muddier against better defensive players.
Will durability be a concern?
His overall durability will likely come under scrutiny too. Leaner quarterbacks in the NFL, guys like Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa, whether by sheer bad luck or coincidence, have been susceptible to injuries in recent years too. There’s already some doubt about their long-term durability, which has caused Tagoavailoa to bulk up in the offseason and might be part of the hesitancy to give Jackson a monster deal. Now imagine that for a guy who’s smaller than them — and by a distance.
For some, Young might just not be worth the risk. Not every general manager in the NFL is a fan of Kenny Rogers; they’re not gambling men. It might just be too easy for them to talk themselves out of a player that has such a noticeable red flag. Drafting and potentially missing on Young would hurt a GM’s reputation more than not drafting him and watching him become a multiple-time All-Pro quarterback. It’s often a numbers game for some front offices, and statistically, quarterbacks of Young’s size and stature don’t exist and, if they do, they certainly don’t make it in the NFL.
But that’s an unfair gesture to make; to say that quarterbacks of his stature don’t make it to the NFL. It is true but besides the point. After all, when has there ever been a quarterback of this size being this talented? Young excels at cutting defenses apart, subtly manipulating the pocket, and keeping plays alive like a point guard on a dribble drive, moving defenders with his eyes and his feet, patiently waiting and anticipating. And he does it at 5-foot-10. He’s a statistical anomaly designed to get front offices thinking. Drafting him and getting success could lend credence to the idea that football doesn’t have to be played amongst giants. It could usher in a new era in quarterback play.
We tend to put players in easy-to-define, one-dimensional boxes, brandishing them with a particular cliche or buzzword. That can be okay, but it leaves the nuances of a player’s game unchecked and underappreciated. So while Young’s size could certainly be a concern in the NFL, there’s so much to his game that can negate those concerns.
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