The Boulder that Stands in Bryce Young's Way is just a Stepping Stone
The only reason outliers are considered outliers is because they overcome an obstacle that people assume nobody can overcome. That so-called “obstacle” is really just a narrative that people have a hard time seeing past. Assumptions are lazy and often mistaken for laws. Assumptions are built off of past experiences, but the most sensational outliers are the ones that defy what has happened in the past. Outliers are inspiring, and they set motivation for what could be. If we look at limitations like walls that people have in their brain, outliers find the door in the wall. They show others what is possible behind the wall by walking through these doors. They enable the brain to use the wall less like an “end-all-be-all”, but as an opportunity for a door.
In sports, people tend to create walls for incredible athletes. It is the athletes job to ignore these walls and look at them like barriers. Barriers are meant to get in the way, but the greatest outliers are the ones who don’t let them. Let’s take Josh Allen for example, coming out of Wyoming one reporter wrote, “Allen lacks accuracy as a passer, he completed less than 60% of his passes and had a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s not a winner, against lower-level competition he had a collegiate record of just 16-11. Being just an average quarterback in the Mountain West does not translate to being a pro-bowl caliber player, let alone a starter in the NFL.” That is lazy reporting; that reporter did not apply context to the stats on paper. While Allen did play against lesser-competition, he also played on an offense with zero other future NFL players. His team had one of the highest dropped ball percentages in college football, he played with an offensive line that gave him little time to throw, and he would consistently step up in the biggest moments when his team needed him the most. Pair that with a cataclysmic right arm and Cam Newton-esque mobility, you get one of the best players in the entire NFL. After writing that in 2018, I would no longer let what is written on paper skew what I see on film. I set limitations on what was possible for Josh Allen, and he was able to find the door in the wall and open up a world of possibility for critics like myself. That is the beautiful thing about sports and professional athletes, doors are constantly being opened.
This leads us to this year’s NFL Draft, and the conversation around Alabama quarterback, Bryce Young. Young was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, won the Heisman trophy as a sophomore and won 24 of the 27 games he started in. Not to mention, Young broke Alabama’s single-season passing yards and touchdowns record and is second in career passing yards despite only playing two seasons. With that being said the biggest topic of the conversation surrounding Young is his size (or lack thereof). At the combine, Young measured in at 5’10 204 lbs., which realistically means he walks around sub-200 lbs. Look at Young’s combine weight as the opposite of a UFC weigh-in. In the UFC, the fighters completely dehydrate themselves to be as light as possible and end up fighting 10+ heavier than their initial weigh in. This is most likely the heaviest Young has ever been and will surely regress to the mean (approximately 195 lbs.) after the combine.
The Ringers’ Benjamin Solak pointed out the difference between Young and the four most successful shorter quarterbacks in recent history; his weight. Kyler Murray who is the closest size comparison to Young, is 5’10, but a solid 207 lbs. While Murray is dense for his size, he has has missed 10 games the past two seasons and has had to consistently play through various injuries. The other three successful short quarterbacks are Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, and Michael Vick, all walked around at 209 lbs. or more throughout their careers. People get bored with well-rounded prospects so they like to create walls that should not be there.
There are two major ailments that size causes for quarterbacks; the first is health. In Young’s case, he has stayed as healthy as one can be when playing football at a high level. Young has missed just one game in the past two years and that was due to an injury on a throw he made falling to the ground against Arkansas (not due to the contact inflicted on him). In his return from the missed game, Young threw the ball over 50 times for over 450 yards. The SEC is the closest thing to the NFL, and Young was able to stay healthy despite having to consistently go up against teams like Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn. When playing football against players that way 250+ lbs., no player is ever really “100%”, but the toughest ones are still able to play at a high level despite not being 100%. Young is one of the toughest players in this draft; he is capable of standing in the pocket and delivering passes 30 yards downfield and he also isn’t afraid to run. Critics believe Young’s size is going to prevent him from staying healthy, but I believe his toughness will allow him to play at a high level even when he's not fully healthy.
As I mentioned earlier, there are TWO ailments that a lack of size causes for quarterbacks: health and the ability to throw over the middle. A serious problem for shorter quarterbacks is seeing over their offensive linemen. This may cause them to miss reads and open targets that happen over the middle of the field, especially directly over them (the shorter/mid-range area). At Alabama, Young did not have that problem despite his offensive line being made up of players all 6’3 and taller. The same cannot be said for Russell Wilson, another shorter quarterback. What makes Young different is his ability to anticipate windows in the defense and find holes in his offensive line that he is able to step into. Young has tremendous spacial awareness, and it is apparent when watching him play and maneuver the pocket. The charts below are provided by pro football focus and compare Russell Wilson’s pass attempts (from 2018-2021) to Bryce Young’s pass attempts from this past season.
*Russell Wilson's heat chart (red means high frequency throws)
*Bryce Young's Passing Chart in 2022
Opposing teams have been able to game-plan around Wilson’s inability to see over his line by simulating pressure from the outside and having interior rushers put their hands up to block his line of sight. The same cannot be said for Young who was extremely efficient on throws towards the middle of the field and when having to make middle of the field reads. Playing under Bill O’Brien, who is now the Patriots offensive coordinator, gave him the opportunity to play in a pro-style system for both of his collegiate seasons. Young was tasked with calling out the mic, deciphering coverages post-snap, and changing the protection.
While Young is an outlier in size, he is also an outlier when it comes to reactive athleticism and intelligence. In the NFL’s newly coveted S2 cognition test for cognitive ability and on the spot decision making, Young has been testing in the top percentile. He is not just a good test taker, it is apparent when watching him play. Whether he’s reading coverages or finding his receivers downfield, I have never seen a player react faster to an open target. His ability to stick his back foot in the ground and fire immediately is rare. It is the number one trait (outside of natural arm talent) that coaches like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay covet. It makes him a fit to execute nearly any offense, but especially in Houston under Bobby Slowik. If he ends up being a Texan, Young will consistently be tasked with anticipatory throws towards the middle of the field. I am confident he will be able to do this because he has done it consistently at Alabama under Nick Saban.
Most quarterbacks would not be able to operate at 5’10 sub-200 lbs., but Bryce Young isn’t most quarterbacks. That is exactly what an outlier is; it is not someone who has a severe hindrance; it is someone who is able to overcome that hindrance due to other rare abilities. Young’s size is not what makes him an outlier; his ability to make the correct decision under the most intense pressure makes him an outlier. He has been this size his entire life; it is something he cannot control. You know what else he’s been doing his entire life? Finding the door in what everyone else assumed was a wall. He has won at the highest level and is the best player on the field at all times. Just because we have never seen a quarterback be successful at Young’s size, does not mean it is not possible. There is no player in this entire draft that I would want leading my team more than Bryce Young.