Alabama, Ohio State are days back on the Panthers’ No. 1 favorites

David NewtonESPN staff writer4 minutes to read

Tuscaloosa, Ala. – The Carolina Panthers traded the No. 1 pick of the NFL Draft for a shot at Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, and the quarterback’s back-to-back days only cemented that decision.

Carolina’s big pro team that includes owners David and Nicole Tepper will continue their assessment of their top quarterbacks — Kentucky’s Will Levis on Friday and Florida’s Anthony Richardson on March 30.

And while no one in Carolina’s organization has officially ruled out Levis or Richardson, league sources have indicated that this race consists of the quarterback over top pick.

Alabama coach Nick Saban believes Carolina saw not only the best quarterback, but possibly the best player in the draft on Thursday.

Saban said Young’s tackle is “off the charts good” and noted that the 21-year-old plays quarterback like a guard in basketball.

“I can’t tell negative who he is and how he prepares,” said Saban.

The only negative is Young’s height. He is 5-foot-10 in the league where the average height for a quarterback is around 6-3. Stroud 6-3.

“I hope he’s the first pick in the draft. Nobody knows that for sure. But we sure hope, and we think he’s the best player in the draft,” said Saban, who spent some time Thursday talking to the Carolina team, including Tipper and coach Frank Reich.

The Panthers did their best to downplay Young’s elevation. Reich, who has never had a quarterback less than 6-3 in his 17 years as a coach, mentioned earlier this week that he had a “very high” score with Russell Wilson (5-11) when the nine-time pro bowler champion was drafted. and the Super Bowl in 2012.

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General manager Scott Ferrer, who was on the Seattle staff that drafted Wilson in the third round, agreed.

“You just learn how to play with it,” said Thursday of Young’s elevation. “You don’t see balls go down. He has no problem seeing the middle of the field, the tackle. He’s off the charts as a tackler.”

“I don’t see height as a factor.”

Young has had one lane demolished Thursday — near the roof of an Alabama training facility on a deep lane. Otherwise, it was immediately at odds of three drops that hit all receivers in the hands.

It was, as the NFL’s Vetterer described it, “Just relax…nothing’s too big for him.”

Young was so quiet on Thursday that an analyst who attended both pro days gave Young an edge.

But the last few days for Carolina have been about getting to know Young and Stroud better as people. They both dined the night before their practices with the Tippers, Reich, Fitterer, and others on a squad that included 12 Ohioans and 11 Alabama players.

A similar crew will go through the same process with Levis and Richardson.

The evaluation process is expected to continue for several more weeks with all four quarterbacks coming to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit the team’s facility before the Panthers indicate who they will select.

When asked what he learned in the few days about Young and Stroud that he didn’t already know, Vetterer didn’t hesitate.

He said, “How smart they are; how mature they are for 21-year-olds.” “You’re asking these guys to come up and lead the franchise and be the face of the franchise by the age of 21. How special these guys are is what we learn.”

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Young and Stroud downplay their case for being the better choice, though Stroud admits that this is where he would like to go.

“It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time,” he said Wednesday. “My dad would make me wear my first draft jersey pick. It was either basketball or football. He laid that foundation early on.”

“I definitely want to make it happen.”

Young said Thursday, “I don’t have an argument. I want to present myself in the best light. But I don’t control where I choose, who chooses me. I would be grateful to any team that takes a chance on me.”

None of the quarterbacks ever ran the 40-yard dash on their pro day. Young’s mobility was never a factor with NFL scouts who watched him run well enough the past two seasons to throw for 8,200 yards and 79 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions.

Stroud didn’t have to stretch play as much by playing behind a more stable line, especially last season, which didn’t force him out of the pocket as much. But Stroud is confident he’s mobile enough for the NFL.

“None of the teams asked me to,” Stroud said when explaining his decision not to run on Wednesday.

Both have shown in their professional days that they can sprint, throw at different angles and throw deep.

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