(Photo Courtesy of Darren Cummings/AP)
CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson are flying high, while Bryce Young is playing with clipped wings. What is making Stroud and Richardson such electric rookie passers, and what is going on with the number one overall pick?
By Sam Robb O’Hagan
The snapshots from Week 4 in Houston, Indianapolis, and Carolina were telling.
CJ Stroud, after a dominant victory at home against a vaunted defense, felt empowered enough to urge the entire city of Houston to wear their Texans jerseys with pride.
Anthony Richardson made superhuman throw after superhuman throw on his way to a 23-point comeback that wasn’t.
And then there was Bryce Young, so starved of ideas in his team’s fourth loss that when the camera did cut to him, he often met it on the sidelines, his helmet perched above his head, his eyes staring into the abyss.
It isn’t difficult to figure out how things are going for the NFL’s trio of marquee rookie quarterbacks. It is notably more difficult, however, to figure out which one was the first pick.
It’s important to remember why, exactly, these three quarterbacks were drafted so high. There was little consensus on their order and rank before the draft — the Panthers didn’t draft Young first because he was clearly the draft’s best quarterback, nor did the Texans draft Stroud because he was obviously the second.
Carolina, Houston, and Indianapolis all hung their hats on specific stand-out traits.
That is why, though he’s done things like become the first player in NFL history to throw for 1,200 yards without an interception in his first four starts, nothing is as important as Stroud’s flashes. It’s the critical evidence that the uber-confident accuracy that made him the second-overall pick is translating to the pros.
Stroud throws with so much anticipation that it appears almost irresponsible, but every time it works. Check out these two throws against Jacksonville, minding the position of the receiver when Stroud begins to throw the ball.
The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak put it perfectly — the young man’s got the goods.
Rookie quarterbacks don’t do this. Many veteran quarterbacks don’t do this. This level of belief and aggressiveness, and the understanding of the game it all requires, is an elite quality.
And, by the way, Stroud isn’t just an admirably eager young quarterback. The arm talent is translating — watch the combination of velocity and touch on this gorgeous 52-yard touchdown pass to Nico Collins on Sunday.
So, yes, if you are a Texans fan, it’s probably time to start wearing that jersey again.
Richardson’s second-half heroics on Sunday probably sold plenty of Colts jerseys, too.
There are no ‘first in NFL history or four-digit numbers on Richardson’s stat sheet. The excitement isn’t grounded. Much of it remains a theory, much like it did when Indianapolis made him the fourth overall pick.
But it would be almost impossible to find a theory more exciting than Richardson’s ceiling. And there is a tower — a 6-foot-4, 244-pound tower — of mounting evidence that he might just go ahead and reach it.
“You can tell,” Colts’ tight end Drew Ogletree said after the game on Sunday, “he’s going to be something special in this league.”
Ogletree caught the third of Richardson’s three total touchdowns on Sunday to complete the Colts’ 23-point second-half comeback, which ended as a 29-23 overtime loss to the Rams.
The loss won’t matter to the Colts. Because everyone can tell.
Richardson made a series of superhuman throws on Sunday, defiant proof that the impossible plays he was drafted to make can carry his team.
There was this 38-yard bomb to Alec Pierce, on second-and-20, in the arms of Aaron Donald, without forward momentum and only his arm to generate the required torque on the ball to even get it down there. Or this perfectly placed back shoulder throw to Kylen Granson that, if caught, would’ve put the Indianapolis in position to kick a game-winning field goal. Or this rocket up the seam to a streaking Josh Downs.
Or this — the Colts’ first touchdown of the game — a stumbling, near-horizontally-platformed rope to Mo-Alie Cox at the tail end of a dead play.
And there are also the 131 yards and four touchdowns Richardson has accumulated on the ground in his first two-and-a-half games. Plays on which, as it turns out, it helps to be that tall, that big, and that fast.
There are plenty more reasons, in between all of the dropped jaws, to believe in Richardson. But, for now, as he leads the league in explosive play rate, there’s little need to get into any of the boring stuff.
Stroud and Richardson have performed well in exactly the way the Texans and Colts envisioned they would. Young has performed poorly in exactly the way the Panthers envisioned he wouldn’t.
Young was made the number one overall pick — and deemed worth two more first-round picks, a second-round pick, and DJ Moore — because of his creativity.
Young was an elite playmaker at Alabama. In the pocket, he was passable, but a historically small passer whose projection to the pros was concerning. Out of the pocket, he was almost unstoppable — evading rushers, sensing the movement of defenders downfield, and delivering accurate throws on the move.
Three starts into his NFL career, he’s doing none of it.
The Vikings blitzed Young throughout the four quarters on Sunday, and he had no answers. He took five sacks, and it would be difficult to attribute the Panthers’ loss to anything else.
All five came with less than 20 minutes left — the first became a scoop-and-score to give the Vikings the lead; the last two, taken after the two-minute warning as Carolina trailed by one possession, turned a second-and-goal from the 9-yard line into a turnover on downs at the 23.
There’s a constant among all five, and, among all 11 sacks he’s taken in his first three games — Young simply cannot evade incoming pass rushers. Of course, a free rusher is not his fault, and it’s unfair to expect him to evade an unblocked safety a couple of seconds after the snap. But how defenders easily gobble up Young behind the line of scrimmage, as he puts the same moves on them as he did the defenders he dominated in college, is concerning.
And, as the Panthers maybe should have expected, it’s hard to outrun players when your legs are just shorter than everybody else’s.
There is no existing evidence that Young has exceptional NFL athleticism. And if he doesn’t have the athleticism to create plays out of structure, there’s little for anyone in Carolina to turn to.
And it’s not just that Young is failing to create positive plays, he’s failing to avoid negative plays, too. Through four weeks, Young has the worst expected points added per play among the 32 starting quarterbacks, tied with Daniel Jones. The number, it should be noted, is -0.229, meaning he is costing his team almost a quarter of a point per play.
So, there were the immediate snapshots on Sunday. Stroud and Richardson celebrating on the field, Young lost for words off of it.
But, there was the bigger picture, too, which frames Stroud and Richardson delivering on their promise, their best qualities translating to the NFL game.
And there’s Young, who doesn’t look big enough for any of it.