CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers defended their decision to take Bryce Young with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, even as C.J. Stroud has gotten off to a strong start.
When the Panthers traded up to the top spot in the draft and selected the smaller Young over Stroud, who went second overall to the Houston Texans, the comparisons between the two QBs became inevitable.
And through six games Stroud has clearly been better.
But Panthers coach Frank Reich doesn’t seem concerned as the top two picks prepare to meet for the first time on the NFL stage Sunday in Carolina, as he views their careers as a marathon rather than a sprint.
“We got the guy that we wanted to get,” Reich said. “ We couldn’t be happier about that, in every way. I am happy for C.J. He’s had six good games and I have no doubt he will have many more good games. But I know this: when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks or any other position it is (about) years, not weeks."
Stroud has thrown for 1,660 yards with nine touchdowns with one only interception for the Texans (3-3). He leads the league in yards per completion (13.1), and his 191 pass attempts without an interception to begin his career established a new NFL record.
Young, on the other hand, has struggled behind an injury-filled offensive line, going 0-5 as a starter. He's thrown for 967 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions and his 8.4 yards per completion is tied for 31st in the league.
Stroud's QB rating (96.4) is 10th best in the league, while Young ranks 29th (78.7).
Still, the slow start for Young hasn't wavered Reich's view of him as the “best” prospect coming out of college, something he's believed since taking over the Panthers in January.
“My eyes and our eyes were on Bryce Young from start to finish," Reich said.
The Texans are plenty happy with Stroud, who has them 1 1/2 games behind the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2) in the AFC South entering Week 8.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio said Stroud has done a great job of playing to his strengths.
“I think sometimes people get caught up in they have to do something or try something different,” Caserio said. “If you do certain things a certain way in practice, how they’re coached and the technique, then you get in the game and do something different, I mean, you have to ask yourself, like why would you do that? There’s no magic formula. There’s no magic fairy dust that anybody is going to sprinkle or anybody. Show up, do your job, have the right mindset, have a good attitude, go out there.”
Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said he was impressed with both QBs during the draft process.
“What you’ve seen from both of them is that they have a lot of experience,” Ryans said. “They played a lot of ball in college, and it was clear to me that both of those guys were the top two quarterbacks coming out in this draft, and they’ve both done a really nice job.”
Even if the Panthers do have some buyer's remorse, they're unlikely to admit it. They have too much invested in Young.
Carolina sent four draft picks, including next year's first-rounder, and wide receiver D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears to move up eight spots to get Young. If the Panthers (0-6) finish with the league's worst record, the No. 1 overall pick in 2024 would go to the Bears.
Reich is still optimistic the Panthers will turn things around and insists the tough start will only drive Young to be better.
“I’m sure he’s never experienced anything like an 0-6 start,” Reich said. "But the way he’s handled that — the resolve and the determination you can see in his eyes and you can feel in his demeanor — is the way you would expect someone with his toughness and competitiveness to handle it.”
Despite the losses, Reich thinks Young has played well.
The Panthers are actively trying to get him more help at wide receiver, but the price of luring a big-time player has been too high.
So for now the Panthers plan to be patient with Young through some tough times.
“You look at the film, you talk to the man and you get a sense of the leader, the player and what he is and what he can be, and how he fits into the vision we have as an offense and as an organization, we got the guy for us," Reich said. "And I'm sure Houston feels they got the guy for them."
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.
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