October is a little early to really be talking about the NFL draft, but let’s face it: Some of these teams (specifically looking at you, Carolina Panthers) don’t really have much left to play for. In the coming weeks, more and more fanbases will start looking toward the offseason as their teams rack up the losses and sink into irrelevancy.
A handful of teams will be looking for a franchise quarterback in next year’s draft class. Alabama might have that guy under center right now. Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Jalen Hurts all repped the crimson and white in recent seasons, and now Bryce Young is poised to be the next highly drafted Alabama signal-caller.
Young just might be the best of them all. He's a magician in the pocket and easily one of the most talented throwers in the country. He's been able to execute whatever throw Alabama's offense requires of him, which is coordinated by former NFL head coach Bill O'Brien. Young won the Heisman Trophy last season in just his first year as a starter, with 4,872 passing yards and 47 passing touchdowns to go along with three more scores on the ground. From a skills perspective, Young appears to have all the goods to be a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL.
However, Young’s draft projection isn’t fully agreed upon by analysts. His size (listed at 6-foot, 194 pounds on Alabama’s roster) is going to draw some concern among people who prefer taller, sturdier passers in the pocket. Still, Young appears to offer enough high-level passing traits that translate to the current aesthetic of the NFL game. Young’s legs are a weapon, but his arm is the driving force of what makes him arguably the best quarterback prospect in the 2023 NFL draft.
People who cover college football know just how good Young is — and he even showed that throughout Alabama's 52-49 loss against Tennessee this past weekend. The Crimson Tide dropped that game even though Young managed 452 yards and two touchdown passes on 8.8 yards an attempt. Without Young putting the offense on his back for drives at a time, Alabama would've been walked off the field by Tennessee. Seth Galina, a college football analyst for Pro Football Focus, is bullish on Young and his ability to be the face of an NFL franchise.
“Young is one of the most intelligent quarterback prospects we've seen in a long time,” Galina said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “He processes information at a high level. Besides being supremely accurate, one of his best traits is figuring out what coverages and plays the defense is going to be running before the snap so he can play as fast as possible after the snap. He's not waiting for the defense to declare itself after the snap, he's one step ahead.”
Young’s prowess as a passer, before and after the snap, has scouts and analysts enamored, but even Galina can’t totally overlook Young’s size. There haven’t been too many players at Young’s size that have had sustained success over the years — Russell Wilson and Drew Brees are probably the strongest examples of smaller quarterbacks having long, successful careers. Still, the totality of his game makes him an enticing prospect despite his size.
“Evaluating him as an NFL prospect is trickier,” Galina said. “At his height and weight, there aren't many quarterbacks who are selected in the draft, never mind the first round. We can always compare him to some of the shorter quarterback outliers over the last couple decades who have been elite NFL starters, but they are outliers for a reason. If Young is two inches taller, he might be the best quarterback prospect in a long time. That's how smart he is.”
Young’s draft prospects are certified even with the concerns about his size. NFL teams have been willing to overlook players that don’t have prototypical size in exchange for otherworldly skills. Beyond that, Young holds a special place in the history of Alabama’s football program.
He appears to have a little extra juice than the three NFL quarterbacks that played before him and has something in his closet that none of them have — a Heisman Trophy. Young will enter the NFL as a more accomplished player individually than the other three, and Tagovailoa, Jones and Hurts have all shown signs that they can be quarterbacks worthy of a second starting contract in the NFL.
This puts Young in an interesting position as far as his Crimson Tide legacy goes, which SEC Network’s Richard Johnson explained to Yahoo Sports.
"It cannot be understated how much Bryce Young means to Alabama," Johnson said. "Sure, you may think it's Alabama and they've got all the talent in the world, but they don't beat Texas earlier this season without him. They don't come as close to beating Tennessee as they did without him either. As Bama has pivoted away from the defensive and run-game oriented offense of the early Saban era, this team is almost the exact opposite. It's basically all Young."
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Young’s presence represented a bit of a philosophical shift in the way Saban operated his program. In his early days, the Crimson Tide were filled with behemoth players like Andre Smith and Chance Warmack and Terrence Cody, but as college football (and football in general) has become schematically sleeker, players like Young have really been able to shine. The truth of the current iteration of Alabama football is that it needs players like Young to be able to take control of games for stretches at a time.
“He has a preternatural ability to operate outside of the pocket and keep plays alive when they've broken down, and it has saved the Bama offense multiple times, especially this year's version,” Johnson said. “Last year, he was one of the most pressured quarterbacks in college football and yet he still produced the way he did. That could be attributed to the WRs he had, but his offensive line situation is similarly struggling and without a real standout receiver, his best pass-catcher is probably running back Jahmyr Gibbs.
“The thing is, we've already seen what Bama's offense is without him against a good defense when Jalen Milroe spelled him against Texas A&M. Yes, Milroe is young, but previous Bama backups have come in games and, you know, won the national championship. Without Young, I don't think the Tide will be doing that this year.”
Young’s NFL prospects will be debated over the next seven months, but his current impact on college football can’t be overstated — from a skill or legacy perspective. Young is one of the most productive players in this era of football and projects be one of the highest draft picks in 2023.
Right now, Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud are the top dogs in the quarterback class. For Young, just turn on the tape and you’ll see why he’s going to be the face of a franchise even with concerns about the long-term viability of his game. He’s a special talent, and the reason why Alabama still has a chance to win the national championship in the wake of their loss to Tennessee.