Heading into the NFL draft this past year, I remember one of my family members who, as a Panthers fan, wanted nothing to do with Bryce Young. He wasn’t impressed with his combine or his performance at Alabama; he wanted the Panthers to draft C.J. Stroud. As someone who doesn’t follow college football, I told him they should be fine with whoever they pick.
Well, currently, the Panthers, who took Young first overall, sit at 1-8 while Stroud and the Houston Texans are at 5-4. Funnily enough, the Panthers’ lone win of the year did come against Stroud and the Texans, but it’s not looking too great for Carolina right now. To go and get Young in the draft, they traded their first-round pick for this year, which looks like it’ll be another first overall that the Bears will have. Chicago was the latest team to take down the Panthers with a win this week on Thursday Night Football, and doing so improved their chances for that first overall pick. It was a win-win for Chicago and just piled on the disappointment for Panthers fans. Not only was it their eighth loss of the year, but it also came at the hands of an undrafted free-agent quarterback who played at the Division II level in college.
To add insult to injury, the quarterback they could’ve drafted instead, C.J. Stroud, led the Texans to an impressive win over the Cincinnati Bengals on the road. Houston has loved Stroud, especially as of late. Following Sunday, Stroud sits second atop the entire NFL in passing yards (2,626) and sixth in RTG (101.0). Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stroud threw for 470 yards and achieved an RTG of 147.8; both set the highest marks for a rookie in NFL history. He has a 15 to two touchdown-to-interception ratio and people are even wanting to involve him in the MVP conversations. Meanwhile, in Carolina, there are rumblings that fans want to stage a protest to send a message to ownership that they want a better product on the field.
It’d be unfair to say that these players are coming into similar situations and that Young is just underperforming because that’s not exactly the case. While the Panthers brought in a bunch of veteran presence at the skill positions with Adam Thielen, Miles Saunders and D.J. Chark Jr., it didn’t really seem like moves that would aid in Young’s development. Drafting Jonathan Mingo seemed like a step in the right direction and Thielen has been Young’s favorite target so far, but I think the Texans’ roster construction fits Stroud better.
The Texans acquired veterans in Dalton Schultz, Noah Brown and Robert Woods, who, at times, have seemed to elevate Stroud’s play. One of the biggest stories from the draft was that the Texans drafted Tank Dell out of Houston because Stroud told them to. As a thanks, he’s given the team 510 receiving yards and five touchdowns in eight games. Dameon Pierce’s struggles have been well publicized, but the team as a whole only has one rush this year over 20 yards, a 22-yard rush by Devin Singletary. All this has led to a top-six team in yards per game (372.6) despite averaging under 100 yards rushing per game.
Considering all this, it makes it harder to compare the two. Houston seemed like a roster more fit to win, while the Panthers have some rebuilding to do. Nothing emphasizes that more than that Young has also been sacked 10 times more than Stroud (29 to 19). Young’s 29 on the year is fourth highest in all of the NFL, behind just Sam Howell (47), Zach Wilson (33) and Daniel Jones (30).
Even looking at team defense plays a role in how ready these teams were ready to win in 2023. Throughout their nine games so far, Houston is +4 in turnover differential, while Carolina sits at -4. The Panther’s defense has allowed 26.9 points per game, third worst in the NFL, while Houston sits in the middle of the pack at 21.3.
Many people have ragged on the Panthers for drafting Young over Stroud, and while some of the blame should go on Young for his performance, I do feel that if the Texans were more poised to perform in 2023. That being said, the Carolina front office easily could’ve done something similar to what the Texans did with Stroud and chose to kind of piece a random roster together. We’ve all seen this story before, and it never ends in success. It’s not going to be an easy fix, but it is possible to change the fortunes around in Carolina using what Houston has done with Stroud as an example.