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2023 No. 1 pick Bryce Young aims to rebound, 'be the best version I can' for Panthers in 2024

It's been just shy of a calendar year since Bryce Young was taken No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.

As all sights are set on Detroit and the 2024 NFL Draft, in which USC quarterback Caleb Williams is presumed to be the next top pick, the Carolina Panthers quarterback is looking forward while hoping to learn from his rookie travails.

"I just want to be the best version I can," Young said this week, via the team website’s Darin Gantt. "Obviously, we have a lot of change in the system. New coaching staff, a couple of new pieces. So, it's going to be a great opportunity for us to grow and build together. But, I think as a team, individually, all combined, I think we learned a lot and grew a lot. Obviously, it was not the year we wanted to have last year. But, you know, you're able to learn from those experiences."

In Young's rookie experiences, the negative far outweighed the positive, often times reaching historic levels of struggle.

Young was 2-14 as a starter (he missed one game due to injury) in 2023, completing 315 of 527 passes (59.8%) for 2,877 yards (179.8 per game), 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Since 2000, 14 quarterbacks have been selected No. 1 overall and recorded at least 150 passing attempts as a rookie. In that time, Young's 12.5 winning percentage was second-worst to only Jared Goff with the Rams, as he went 0-7 as a starter, per NFL Research.

His yards per game (10th), passing yards per attempt (5.5; 11th), TD:INT ratio (eighth) and 73.7 passer rating (eighth) also sounded historical alarm.

Perhaps most worrisome was the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder took 62 sacks, second only to Sam Howell last season in the NFL and second only to David Carr among rookies since 2000. Carr's 76 sacks taken remain an NFL record.

In an unsettling turn of phrase for the Panthers, Young kept getting pounded by opposing rushes.

Young's finest showing statistically came in a 33-30 Week 16 loss to a red-hot Green Bay Packers squad. Facing a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Young spearheaded a pair of scoring drives, finding DJ Chark for touchdowns to lead to a 30-30 ballgame. A last-minute field goal lifted the Packers to victory, but Young tallied a season-high 312 yards and 110.0 QB rating, completing 23 of 36 passes, tossing the pair of TDs and finishing without an interception.

Any potential momentum to finish out the campaign strong vanished, though, as Young and the Panthers offense were held scoreless for the final eight quarters of the 2023 season with back-to-back shutout losses.

Young's struggles coincided with the Panthers stumbling to a 2-15 record.

It's hardly a football fate Young is accustomed to.

He won the 2018 CIF (California) State Football Championship Open Division title as a junior at Mater Dei. As a senior, his Monarchs fell short of a repeat, but he was the L.A. Times Player of the Year and California Gatorade Player of the Year after throwing for 58 touchdowns and 4,528 yards in 13 games.

Then he moved on to Alabama and experienced more team and individual success.

He was Mac Jones' backup on the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship squad and a season later, while 'Bama fell short in the title game, he won the Heisman Trophy.

Following high school and college tenures in which seemingly everything went right, it was the polar opposite in Charlotte.

He's already set to play for his third head coach in Carolina after Frank Reich was fired mid-season last year and replaced by interim head coach Chris Tabor.

As Dave Canales has taken the reins, it's been so far so good for Young, whose emphasis is dually on settling in as a team leader along with improving his game.

"I'm making sure that I take accountability and responsibility for us to make sure that we're on the same page," he said. "I think last year, I came in, and I wanted to learn. Obviously, I was in a position where I'm the starting quarterback and a leader, but also I felt like there was a process of me trying to learn and earn that respect, and earn the ability to be a leader."

With Canales taking the head-coaching reins and Dan Morgan taking over at general manager, there's newness throughout the building and the roster.

Thus, it might be the 2023 No. 1 overall pick's second season ahead, but it's a fresh start.

"We have a group of guys that want to be held accountable, that want the best, that want to do those little things," Young said. "It's just making sure that we make a culture, so that's what happens on a day-to-day basis. So I feel like cultivating that culture is something that's really important for me."

When the draft opens Thursday and the next No. 1 pick takes center stage, Young's presence will hover. After all, the Bears own the pick after the Panthers traded up last year to take him at No. 1.

2023 didn't go how he or the franchise hoped and, April or not, he's aiming to remind everyone of the ability and talents that thrust him into the limelight not that long ago.

"I want to make sure I'm the best version of myself," Young said. "And continue to grow, get more comfortable in the system, continue to take ownership, and grow as a leader."

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