What to expect in Bryce Young’s second start

First overall picks are more conservative and make fewer mistakes, yet still lose

Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young completed 20 of 38 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in his NFL debut, a 24-10 Carolina loss at Atlanta. (John Bazemore / AP Photo)

Bryce Young didn’t have the debut he — and Carolina Panther fans — had wanted. The first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, a pick the Panthers traded their top receiver to land, threw two interceptions and completed just over half his pass attempts as the Panthers dropped their season opener to the Atlanta Falcons.

The TV broadcast and most postgame coverage pointed out that Young joined a long list of top draft picks to lose on opening day. The last first overall pick to quarterback his team to a win in the season opener was David Carr back in 2002. Young became the 10th quarterback to start the opener and lose since then.


Including Carr, a total of 16 quarterbacks have been taken first overall. Five of them didn’t win the starting job until later in their rookie year. One, JaMarcus Russell, only started one game in his first season in the league. The rest can give us a roadmap for how Young’s performance could change from Week 1 to Week 2.

Excluding Russell, the 14 other top picks went winless in their first start and weren’t much better in start No. 2. They went a combined 5-9 in their second start, with Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer getting their first wins.

Like Young, the quarterbacks struggled with turnovers in their first starts, throwing a combined 26 interceptions compared to 15 touchdowns.

Panthers coach Frank Reich pointed out that Young’s two interceptions were not entirely his fault.

“On the first interception, I put a lot of that interception on me,” Reich said. “We got in a bad position. We got the (offensive pass interference) called, and then we’re backed up. And then we get a delay of game call. And that delay of game was 100% on me. I had a miscommunication with Bryce. That miscommunication was 100% on me, and it caused the delay of game. So, puts us even more backed up and put us in a bad position. So that one’s on me.”

Reich also said the second pick “wasn’t 100% on Bryce,” citing an unspecified breakdown elsewhere in the offense.

The rookie quarterback disagreed. “Not good; not good enough to win,” Young said. “Made crucial turnovers, which … can’t do, especially where they happened. We didn’t score enough to win, and again, that falls on me. That falls on my shoulders. So I need to improve. I need to be better. Going to learn from it.”

Entirely his fault or not, Young, with one touchdown pass and two picks, was as close to the average as he could get (1.07 touchdowns and 1.86 interceptions) for top picks in their starting debuts.

The good news for the Panthers is that if history repeats itself, the mistakes should be drastically reduced. The top pick quarterback club had 16 touchdowns in their second starts, an average of 1.14 per game, but the interceptions were nearly cut in half, to 14, or one per game.

Only two quarterbacks — Mayfield and Jared Goff — avoided throwing interceptions in their first start, and both quarterbacks waited until later in the season before making their starting debut. Every quarterback that started his opener got intercepted, and six of the 10 threw multiple picks.

In Week 2, five quarterbacks managed to avoid getting intercepted and only five of the 14 threw multiple interceptions.

One reason for the drop in interceptions is that the quarterbacks learned an important lesson in their debuts — know when to hold and when to fold. Instead of throwing the pass in all situations, the quarterbacks were more conservative in their second starts.

Pass attempts fell from an average of 36 in the first start to 31 in Week 2. Passing yardage fell a bit as well, from 220 yards to 198. They were less spectacular — four quarterbacks had 300-yard passing days in their debuts, and only two threw for 300 in their second start — but overall, they were more efficient.

The net result of the more conservative approach was a jump in passer rating, from 61.5 in Week 1 to 71.6 the next week.

So Young, who threw 38 passes against the Falcons, can be expected to throw closer to 30, turn in a cleaner performance and likely still lose in the Panthers’ second game this week.

The good news is, he’ll continue to improve, like the top picks before him.

“He’s got the maturity of someone way beyond his years,” Reich said. “He’s a team-first person. He’ll be hard on himself. And each of us should be.”