National Football League
Bryce Young's game rises above his frame, making him worthy of No. 1 pick
National Football League

Bryce Young's game rises above his frame, making him worthy of No. 1 pick

Updated Apr. 17, 2023 4:48 p.m. ET

If Bryce Young becomes the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, his rise to the top of the charts will serve as a fascinating case study on valuing performance and production over athleticism and potential at the quarterback position. 

The 2021 Heisman Trophy award winner lacks the prototypical dimensions that evaluators covet — he measured just over 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds at the NFL Combine. But make no mistake: Young is a certified baller, with the IQ, instincts and diagnostic skills that coaches love in their QB1s. As a football savant with above-average arm talent and polished pocket passing skills, Young plays the position like he's smashing his buddies in a Madden tournament. 

From shredding the defense with pinpoint throws on an assortment of quick-rhythm passes to dropping dimes on improvised scrambles rolling to either side, Young is a dart thrower with a knack for squeezing the ball into tight windows down the field. His unique combination of timing, anticipation and touch enables him to "throw guys open" in traffic, which is critical to succeeding at the next level. 

Considering how quickly Young processes information and adjusts to how opponents defend him, I am not surprised to hear about his impressive performance on the S2 test, a cognitive test aimed at measuring processing speeds for quarterbacks. He plays like he knows what he is doing, and that confidence results in an aggressive approach that produces big plays with minimal miscues and turnovers. 

Reviewing Young's production as a two-year starter at Alabama, it is not surprising that he finished his career with 8,300-plus passing yards and an 80-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Sure, he was surrounded by one of the best-supporting casts in college football, but it is hard to shred opponents to that level without a high football IQ or clear understanding of how to attack defenses. 

The production is a byproduct of his processing ability, and scouts must pay close attention to that correlation when comparing Young to other quarterback prospects in the 2023 class. For instance, Kentucky's Will Levis and Florida's Anthony Richardson possess the prototypical physical dimensions and arm talent to shine as QB1s, but they did not post big numbers in the SEC. 

While their respective supporting casts were not as talented as Young's teammates, their QB superpowers (Levis: arm talent; Richardson: arm talent and athleticism) should have been able to elevate their teams' performances. With that in mind, Levis deserves credit for notching 17 wins in 24 career starts. The former two-sport high school standout (football and baseball) flashed the ability to put the team on his back as a junior, but Levis and the Wildcats struggled last season with a new offensive coordinator and scheme. 

Despite posting similar numbers in each of the past two years (2022: 65.4% completion rate, 2,406 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 2021: 66% completion rate, 2,826 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions), the 6-foot-4, 229-pound gunslinger could not get the team going as he struggled with turnovers and sacks. Levis' performance last season raises concerns about his ability to play winning football with a lesser cast. 

Richardson also disappointed on the field despite his superhero talents. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound QB completed just 53.8% of his passes for 2,549 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He added 654 rushing yards and nine scores on 103 attempts to complete his 2022 résumé.

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Although those numbers are solid for a starting dual-threat quarterback at a Power 5 school, you expect more from a potential top-five pick. The top five is reserved for players expected to dominate the league early in their careers while ranking among the top-five players at their position. 

This brings me back to Young and why he is worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick after an impressive two-year run at Alabama with different supporting casts. Despite NFL-caliber playmakers coming and going, Young's performance and production did not change. His completion rate (66.9% to 64.5%), yards per attempt (8.9 to 8.8), and touchdown to interception ratio (47-7 to 32-5) did not drop significantly from his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign to his final season at Alabama. 

Most impressively, Young kept the Crimson Tide in title contention with a new cast of playmakers in 2022 after losing star receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie to the NFL. While some would suggest that Alabama is always loaded with NFL talent and premier playmakers, Young's ability to keep the offense humming while breaking in a new set of wideouts speaks volumes to his leadership skills, adaptability and overall talent. 

At a time when teams are searching for QBs with the ability to elevate the play of a franchise, Young's performance and production throughout his career suggest that he is the crown jewel of the 2023 class. 

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on "Speak For Yourself" and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the "Moving the Sticks" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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