National Football League
NFL young talent rankings: No. 16 Panthers have promise — and a potential franchise QB
National Football League

NFL young talent rankings: No. 16 Panthers have promise — and a potential franchise QB

Published Aug. 17, 2023 8:31 a.m. ET

When quantifying an NFL team's young talent, it's hard to imagine anyone providing a bigger boost than a quarterback taken with a No. 1 overall pick, and the Panthers showed that in trading a ton of assets for the right to select Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

To secure that pick from Chicago, they gave up receiver D.J. Moore, the No. 9 and 61 picks in this year's draft, plus next year's first-round pick and a 2025 second-rounder. And if you're looking for reasons for optimism in Carolina, they start with Young, already anointed the starting quarterback.

Hopes are high that he can bring the Panthers back to and even eclipse the heights they reached in the Cam Newton era; their last QB from an Alabama-based SEC school was also drafted No. 1; he won an MVP in 2015 while leading Carolina to a 15-1 record. They ultimately lose in the Super Bowl.

In seven seasons since, Carolina has one winning season and the Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since the 2017 season. They didn't miss by much last year, somehow rebounding from a 1-5 start to playing for a division title in Week 17, but they lost to the Bucs and Tom Brady and finished one game out of first place.


Young is far from the only promising player, as the Panthers have a string of first-round picks who could emerge around the QB, this year or further ahead. Leading the way is Brian Burns, who earned his second Pro Bowl nod this past season and is coveted by the Panthers enough that they reportedly turned down an offer of two first-round picks from the Rams at last year's trade deadline.

Counting interims, the Panthers are on their fifth coach in five seasons, but there's hope for stability around new hire Frank Reich and an experienced staff brought in to develop all that young talent and get Carolina back to the postseason.

How much faith do you have in Bryce Young?

Young core

Bryce Young, QB (2023 first round) 

Brian Burns, edge rusher (2019 first round) 

Ikem Ekwonu, T (2022 first round) 

Jaycee Horn, CB (2021 first round) 

Derrick Brown, DT (2020 first round)

Standout: Jaycee Horn

We could start with Burns, but we'll save him for the contract section. Instead, we'll go with Horn, who was limited to three games by a foot injury in his rookie year but played 13 last season, getting three interceptions and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 52.6 passer rating on passes thrown his way. 

New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has worked with some of the best corners in the league — Denver's Patrick Surtain last year and the Rams' Jalen Ramsey before that — and will now lean on Horn to neutralize opponents' top receiving threats.

Potential breakout: Bryce Young

This has to start with Young, who seeks to become the first quarterback taken No. 1 overall to win a division title as a rookie starter. He was prolific in college, throwing for 79 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions in two years leading Alabama. He'll have veteran options to throw to in receivers Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark, as well as running back Miles Sanders and tight end Hayden Hurst — all newcomers like him. 

Of the three likely rookie starters at quarterback, he's arguably best equipped to have both personal success and wins for his team. This potential and the excitement that comes with it is why you give up so much to try to land a franchise quarterback.

[Auman: Panthers QB Bryce Young impressing coaches with steady progress in camp]

Contracts to consider: Brian Burns

How much will it cost for the Panthers to keep Burns around? He'll make $16 million this season on his fifth-year option, and a third straight Pro Bowl would likely push him over $20 million per year territory. He's only 25 years old and had 12.5 sacks last year, giving him 38 in four seasons in Charlotte. 

Here's something to watch in 2023: The franchise record for sacks is just 15, set by Kevin Greene in 1998 and Greg Hardy in 2013, and that's well within range in a new defense if Burns can stay healthy. If Carolina can't lock him up beforehand, he'll hit the open market as one of the most coveted free agents at any position.

Steelers, Broncos, Panthers are Colin's new playoff teams in 2023

Key stats

  • Brian Burns has 38 sacks since 2019, trailing only Nick Bosa (43.0) among players drafted in 2019 or later. His 43 tackles for loss and 77 QB hits are both third, while his seven strip sacks lead all players drafted since 2019.
  • Derrick Brown is tied for second in his draft class (2020) with 33 QB hits and third with 21 tackles for loss. In 2022, he posted 67 tackles and tied Mike Rucker (2002) for the most by a Panthers defensive lineman in a single season.
  • In 2021, Bryce Young set Alabama records for passing yards (4,872) and touchdowns (47). He's the first Crimson Tide player to be selected first overall in the common draft era.
  • How many touchdown passes constitute a good rookie year for Young? Consider that only two No. 1 overall picks have ever thrown for more than 23 touchdowns as rookies — Baker Mayfield had 27 in 2018 and Peyton Manning had 26 in 1998. Newton, in his rookie season, had 21 touchdowns against 17 interceptions, rushing for another 14 scores. Is a passer rating of 90 or better possible? Only one quarterback taken first overall (Mayfield) has managed that in their rookie season.

Inside info

Bryce Young: Young's anticipation and moxie remind me of a young Russell Wilson and I bet (Panthers GM) Scott Fitterer also sees strong similarities to his former QB. Young throws receivers open, on designed routes or when improvising. Not a true dual threat, but spatial awareness allows him to function in and out of the pocket. True franchise quarterback. —NFL scouting source

Brian Burns: Pure blinding speed off the corner. Burns and the Panthers deserve a lot of credit for his development. He's added strength and hand technique since being an undersized prospect, and will earn a massive raise soon. —NFL scouting source

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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