First look: Alabama QB Bryce Young

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It is always draft season.

For example, yesterday I published a piece diving into what analysts believe the New York Giants are going to do in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft. That prompted a longtime friend — and Giants fan — to reach out to me with this question:

“Didn’t they just have a draft like 15 minutes ago?”

True, but as we all know, once one draft ends, the other begins.

Combine that with the fact that quarterbacks move the needle, and you might see even more interest in the 2023 draft cycle. After just one quarterback came off the board in the first round a year ago, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, prognosticators at the moment envision a much different scenario next spring. According to NFL Mock Draft Database, which is a tremendous resource, six quarterbacks are coming off the board in the “way too early” first round mock drafts. Those passers? C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Will Levis, Tyler Van Dyke, Spencer Rattler and Phil Jurkovec. Florida’s Anthony Richardson sits just outside the first round as well.

Of course, the presence of Rattler should provide a reminder that a lot can change in a year. After all, this time last year, Rattler was a consensus top-five pick in those same “way too early” mock drafts.

Still, with the summer scouting season upon is, it is a great time to get a feel for some of these prospects. We can start with the defending Heisman Trophy winner, Young. After leading the Crimson Tide to an SEC Championship and a berth in the National Championship Game, what are his strengths as a passer?

Let’s dive in.

Poise at the line and in the pocket

Young may have stepped into shoes vacated by Jones, but from his first start last season he demonstrated the kind of poise, both pre- and post-snap, that you want to see from an experienced college quarterback. In his season-opening performance against the Hurricanes, Young completed 27 of 38 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns.

Beyond the production, however, was the way he managed the offense. Take this play from that victory:

Now take this play from the first quarter against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Alabama faces a 3rd and 18 from deep in their own territory, and after Young takes his drop into his own end zone, he faces pressure off the edge. Watch as he evades the pressure — while keeping his eyes glued downfield — before finding Jameson Williams on the deep crossing route for the huge gain:

In his first season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, Young showed the kind of poise both at the line of scrimmage, and in the pocket, that you want to see from an experienced passer. That should remain a strength of his as he enters his second year under center for the Crimson Tide offense.

Wisdom from the pocket

Another strength of Young’s last season was his ability to solve problems from the pocket, whether working through progression reads or moving defenders with his eyes. Whether operating from a clean pocket, or even under duress, Young was able to get to the right option on a given play.

This third-down conversion against Georgia in the SEC Championship game is a prime example of Young working through reads under pressure to solve problems for the offense.. Alabama has the football in their own territory, nursing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. With the Bulldogs desperately needing a stop, they bring pressure from the second level. Alabama has a bunch formation to the right side, and all three receivers run in-breaking routes.

With the blitz coming from the linebackers, Young immediately looks at the first in-breaking route from Ja’Corey Brooks. But when he sees the defender driving on that route from depth, he flashes his eyes outside to the trailing shallow route from Williams. That is covered as well, so Young gets to his third read, the deeper in cut from Slade Bolden:

This next example showcases how Young can influence defenders with his eyes. On this play against Arkansas, the Alabama offense has Williams and John Metchie III in a stack-slot to the right side of the field. They run a vertical passing concept with Williams running a deep crossing route across the formation, while Metchie runs a corner route, breaking towards the right front corner of the end zone.

Arkansas runs Cover 3 on this play, with a post-safety in the middle of the field. Watch as Young puts his eyes right on Williams at the snap, which moves the safety in that direction. That creates a one-on-one situation for Metchie on the other side of the field. Pair that manipulation with the traffic created by the stack-slot release, and you have six points for the Crimson Tide:

Young’s ability to solve problems post-snap with his mind is certainly a strength of his game, and something that NFL evaluators will love about him when they dive deeper into his film.

Creativity

(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

In today’s NFL, you have to be creative as a quarterback.

Sure, it is nice when you can solve problems from the pocket, whether operating under pressure or without anyone near you. But with the athletes defenses are putting on the field, odds are plays are going to break down, requiring you to do something unexpected.

Quarterbacks who can create explosive plays off of structure are quarterbacks who can thrive at the higher levels of the game.

That is another box that Young checked last season.

Two plays from Alabama’s win over Georgia — and their vaunted defense — in the SEC Championship Game highlight Young’s creativity as a quarterback. On his second touchdown of the game, a strike to Metchie, you’ll see quarterback work to the left side of the field with his first two reads, before coming to his right to pick up Metchie. Not only does Young direct traffic, indicating for Metchie to break to the outside, but he puts this throw in a perfect spot, highlighting the accuracy that Saban discussed earlier in the year:

Certainly a creative play.

Young’s combination of poise, decision-making and creativity helped him to the Heisman Trophy last season. Could they propel him to the top of the draft board in 2023? Only time will tell.

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