No. 1 pick Bryce Young struggles while No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud shines

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By Samantha Rose

This is not the start Bryce Young envisioned for his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina is 0-5, the only remaining winless team in the league, and Young has four interceptions and three fumbles lost in his four starts. The Panthers have lost for countless reasons beyond their quarterback, but that has been a difficult adjustment for this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, who went 23-4 as a starter at Alabama and has already matched that two-year loss total as a pro without experiencing a single victory.

“It’s hard,” Young said Monday, reflecting on a 42-24 loss to the Lions. “We’re all competitors. Ultimately, the one stat we care about is a win. Obviously, it’s hard when that’s not your result. But we have to be constructive. As a team, we have to take the good with the bad. We have to be able to acknowledge positives, so we can build off that and obviously own the things that were negative and try to fix those things. … All you’re thinking about is the outcome, because that’s really all that we care about.”

In a division that didn’t have a team with a winning record, the Panthers have dug an early hole, three games out of third place after promising starts by the Bucs (3-1), Falcons (3-2) and Saints (3-2). They’ve already lost to Atlanta and New Orleans head to head, and their winless start will likely continue Sunday, on the road against a Dolphins team that averages 36 points per game.

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“You hear people say ‘It’s hard to win in this league,’ and on the other hand, I like to say and think to myself, ‘It’s really not that hard. Just play good football,'” coach Frank Reich said Tuesday. “Don’t beat yourself, make the other team beat you and make a few plays, and you’re going to win a lot of games. … Losing is never going to be acceptable. It should never taste good. It should always hurt.”

Carolina has had unfortunate luck with injuries — both starting guards have been sidelined, and the defense has lost linebacker Shaq Thompson, corner Jaycee Horn and safety Xavier Woods to long-term injuries. The defense, a key part of the team’s second-half turnaround last year, ranks 28th in points allowed, a touchdown per game worse than a year ago. With the offensive line injuries, Carolina’s run game ranks 21st in the league, after ranking 10th last season.

But much of the attention will fall on Young, especially because the Panthers took him first, leaving the Texans to use the second pick on Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, who is off to a comparably terrific start. Stroud has thrown seven touchdowns (Young has five) and has yet to throw an interception, on Sunday breaking the NFL record for most passes without a pick to start an NFL career, now at 186.

Young has the small consolation of knowing that his struggles are much more in line with rookie quarterbacks entering the NFL. As disappointing as his play has been, his passer rating after four starts is better than plenty of quarterbacks who turned out just fine: Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Trevor Lawrence, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Josh Allen, among others.

Even Young’s personal 0-4 baptism to the NFL is hardly unprecedented, even among No. 1 overall picks. Alex Smith opened his NFL career 0-5, with zero touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and Lawrence had the same 0-5 start. Eli Manning started out 0-6, with three touchdowns against eight picks. Goff finished his rookie season 0-7, and Troy Aikman finished his 0-11.

Dave Helman, Daryl Johnston and Chris Myers on Bryce Young’s struggles

Dave Helman, Daryl Johnston and Chris Myers on Bryce Young's struggles

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For most teams, having the worst record in the NFL at least leads to a high draft pick, but Carolina sent its 2024 first-round pick to the Bears in the deal to move up from No. 9 and draft Young. The Panthers also gave up receiver DJ Moore, who is tied for the NFL lead with five touchdown receptions and ranks fifth in receiving yards. They’ve struggled to fill his big-play void: In five games, they have just nine plays of 20-plus yards, with only the Browns (7) and Bengals (5) totaling less. The Panthers’ 4.9 yards per pass attempt ranks 30th out of 32 teams.

Carolina’s difficult start isn’t likely to change Sunday — the Panthers are 13.5-point underdogs at Miami, with a bye week to follow. They’ll return in a head-to-head showdown of Young and Stroud in hosting the Texans on Oct. 29, with a chance to turn things in the right direction for the team and its quarterback.

“No one wants to be here,” Young said Monday of the team’s 0-5 start. “But it’s where we’re at. Obviously, we have to clean this stuff up and then we have to turn the page. No matter how bad anyone feels, how bad we all feel, we own it in the locker room. All we can do is look towards next week. We all feel it, but we have to try to be as constructive as we can.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.



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