NFL Free Agency is set to kick off on Monday afternoon, but that hasn’t stopped teams from across the league making some huge moves already. The biggest of the bunch involved the Chicago Bears trading away the first overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers, indicating that the Panthers intend on drafting a quarterback. While there are a few candidates to be the top overall pick, it seems like Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is the early favorite to be the first pick of the draft.

With the Bears having Justin Fields at quarterback, it always seemed more likely that they would be trading out of the top overall pick and accruing some more draft assets in the process. The Panthers opted to make the jump up from the ninth overall pick (which went to Chicago in this deal) after going through a rough 2022 season with Baker Mayfield, P.J. Walker, and Sam Darnold all struggling under center.

Considering all they have given up to make this deal happen, the Panthers cannot mess this pick up. C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson are the other candidates to be taken with this pick, but everything seems to be looping back to Young here. And while the draft is still over a month away, it’s clear that the Panthers need to draft Young now that they have the first overall pick.

Why Panthers must draft Bryce Young

Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, there isn’t a quarterback who immediately stands out as the top player at the position right now. Young has always been the presumed favorite at the spot, but Stroud and Levis have their own backers, and after a strong performance at the 2023 NFL Combine, Richardson has been moving up people’s boards as well.

Based on college performance, it’s clear that Bryce Young is likely the most NFL ready passer of this group, and he has traits that should allow him to develop into a top-tier quarterback in the NFL. After sending a massive haul to the Bears, the Panthers can’t afford to mess up this pick, and it looks like the easiest way to ensure they don’t mess it up is by taking Young.

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After sitting for most of his freshman campaign, Young took over as Alabama’s starter in 2021 as a sophomore and immediately won the Heisman Trophy as a result of his dominant play (366/547, 4872 YDS, 47 TD, 7 INT). The 2022 season wasn’t as good for Young (245/380, 3328 YDS, 32 TD, 5 INT) although that was due more to Alabama’s offensive struggles as a whole than Young regressing.

Had he been able to declare for the draft last year, Young would have been the clear cut number one pick of the draft. But after Alabama’s poor offensive showing in 2022, Young’s draft stock has taken a bit of a hit. He still has a decent chance to be the first player drafted, but it’s not as safe of a bet as it was once expected to be.

There are questions surrounding Young, such as his down year in 2022, and his physical profile, which sees him being smaller than most quarterbacks, but there is a lot to like about his game. Young is a composed passer both in the pocket and on the run, and while he’s not exactly a run first quarterback, Young can pick up yards on the ground when he has to.

Chances are whoever Carolina drafts as their quarterback here will struggle out of the gate, partly because of the lack of talent on the Panthers roster. They just traded away their two best offensive players in Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore in a span of only a few months, and they have a new coaching regime led by Frank Reich that is taking over.

There are never safe bets when it comes to drafting quarterbacks, but Young seems like the best bet to allow the Panthers to rebuild on the fly, which is what their goal should be. The NFC South is wide open right now, and even though they were not a good team, Carolina was still in playoff contention late in the season. They have a lot of work to do, but Young is clearly the best quarterback who fits their current timeline.

Whichever quarterback ends up in Carolina is going to come with question marks, and while Young may not have the highest ceiling in this group, it’s clear he has the highest floor right now, and his ceiling is still very high as well. The Panthers didn’t move up all this way for nothing, and in order to make the most of this pick, they should clearly draft Bryce Young with the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.