CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers believe they’ve finally found their franchise quarterback.
The Panthers selected Alabama’s Bryce Young with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, the first time the team has selected a QB with the top overall pick since Cam Newton in 2011.
He becomes the first Alabama player selected No. 1 overall since Harry Gilmer in 1948.
Young was 30-4 as a starter during three seasons with the Crimson Tide, throwing for 8,356 yards with 80 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 after tossing 47 TD passes and helping Alabama go 13-2 and reach the College Football Playoff national championship game.
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The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Young is considered small by NFL standards, and is just the third quarterback since the merger shorter than 6 feet to be selected in the first round, joining Kyler Murray and Johnny Manziel.
But the Panthers have said they don’t have any reservations about his stature, noting he only had two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last season.
“I’m myself, I know who I am, I’m confident in my abilities,” Young told a group of reporters at an NFL Play 60 function Wednesday. “For me, I don’t know how to play the game another way. I’ve been this size relative to the people around me for my entire life. … I can’t grow. I can’t get any taller.”
It’s crucial that the Panthers hit on Young.
General manager Scott Fitterer sent four draft picks — including two first-rounders — and wide receiver D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears last month in a blockbuster deal that allowed the Panthers to move up eight spots and have their choice of quarterbacks. Carolina also considered Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
The Panthers hope Young brings stability to a position that has been in flux since 2017, the previous time the franchise reached the postseason.
Carolina has tried several options under center, including trading for Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, signing free agent Teddy Bridgewater and drafting Matt Corral in the third round last year.
They even brought back Newton for a second stint and considered Deshaun Watson before he wound up with the Cleveland Browns.
But nothing has worked.
The Panthers are just 29-53 over the past five seasons and have yet to make the postseason since David Tepper purchased the team for a then-NFL record $2.3 billion in 2018, leaving the league’s second-wealthiest owner craving a playoff contender.
Young has shown he can win games and comes to Carolina with a reputation for being a high-IQ quarterback who excels at making fast decisions. Young has mostly succeeded as a pocket passer, but can also make plays on the run.
It’s unclear if Young will start right away.
Coach Frank Reich said prior to the draft that the decision to start a rookie quarterback would largely depend on how fast he develops and gets a grasp of the system. The Panthers signed veteran Andy Dalton as a stop-gap until Young is ready.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called Young the “ultimate outlier” because of his size, but still listed him as his best QB available.
“There are some people that feel like you should never draft an outlier,” Kiper said. “(Former general manager) Bill Polian always said, ‘you don’t draft outliers.’ Bryce Young is an outlier and there is no way around that. … But he’s a great player.”
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