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In Trevor Lawrence, Bryce Young has a blueprint for navigating his rookie season

Bryce Young

CHARLOTTE — It can be lonely at the top.

No. 1-overall picks have the fate of an entire organization thrust upon their probably capable yet unproven shoulders. They're asked to carry every teammate, every game, every decision that reverberates across the club, and do it all while learning how to become an adult.

Bryce Young is experiencing all this ten-fold, because in the midst of the transition, he and his weapons have struggled at times to find their chemistry, the team is nursing a two-win season, and the rookie quarterback went through a coaching change three-quarters of the way through his first season.

There are very few people in the NFL who truly understand what Bryce Young is going through this year. But Trevor Lawrence is one of them.

"It seems like our rookie years are kind of going similar up to this point," Lawrence said Wednesday of he and Young.

The two passers both won National Championships in college, both were named All-Americans, and first team in their respective conferences. Young won the Heisman trophy, while Lawrence finished second. Both went on to become first-overall picks for a team in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. Both experienced extreme highs and extreme lows as they adjusted to the game as a rookie and had identical records to this point of their rookie season (Lawrence won his third game the last week of the 2021 season) and both had their coach fired before their rookie year was complete.

Bryce Young

"You can easily fold and just give into the circumstances, become negative," receiver DJ Chark Jr. said this week. He played with both quarterbacks through their rookie season and had a front-row view to the road they had to walk. "You can let pride get in your way; 'I'm better than this, this not my fault,' blame others, things like that. That's a situation that could happen. Or just checking out. Start going through the motions and not really putting your best effort in.

"They could easily do those things, and neither one of them did. They already stayed in and took credit for their mistakes, even took credit for other people's mistakes and continue to fight every day … that's probably one of the biggest things, just the resiliency I saw from Trevor that I also see from Bryce."

That resiliency has been put to the test at times for Young. He and the Panthers opened with five straight losses, before finally notching his first win in the NFL, then added six more losses before finding the second win. Versus the New Orleans Saints, Young had one of the worst games of his young career through the air, finishing with 137 passing yards and a 36.1 percent completion percentage.

And yet, he never wavered. Following that Saints loss, interim coach Chris Tabor saw a different quarterback walk into the building.

"After the New Orleans game, I think that we've definitely seen a different player. Same guy, but I love how he's attacking things," Tabor said this week. "You're seeing a lot of those, what I call his, I guess, intangibles. I see it in practice when he commands the huddle and, he's just gonna continue to get better and better as he goes through these experiences. I really, I tip my hat to him."

After the New Orleans game, Young stood tall in a deluge and completed 75 percent of his passes as the Panthers slugged out a 9-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He followed that performance with his best game of the season, going 23-36 for 312 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers.

It's a rollercoaster that mirrors Lawrence's. In the first four quadrant of games their rookie season, both quarterbacks found the endzone a lot, but also the opposing team, with skewed touchdown to interception ratios and respectable but not eye-popping yards per game. Both took a step forward in the second quadrant, improving their yards per game. Lawrence took a big jump forward in quarterback rating, while Young stayed much the same.

In the third quadrant of games, both quarterbacks as rookies took a big dip, seeing their yards per game, touchdown total and overall QB rating drop to its lowest of the season. In the final quadrant of games (the final five games for Lawrence, while Young has only played two thus far), both saw their completion percentage jump to their highest of the season, and a huge boost in every other category from the third quadrant.

BryceYoung_TrevorLawrence_StatComparison

"I think for me, I've just been trying to be a work in progress, trying to continue to grow," Young said. "I think the comfort just comes from more experience, more games under my belt, more time together. I think that's really where, where the comfort stems from. But, the circumstances, they are what they are and I try not to let that dictate anything for me."

That ability not to waiver, even when things were going wrong, looked remarkably familiar to another guy who played with both rookie quarterbacks, corner Shaquill Griffin.

"The main thing I've seen Trevor do was not waver. Whatever situation he was going through, he dealt with it, and I felt like that made him who he is today, going through those type of adversities," Griffin said. "I feel like the main thing, with those two, definitely can see similarities is to be able to keep that confidence that you need to be a franchise quarterback. I think that year with Trevor, his first year, we won three games. Som, their records are kind of similar.

"A lot of people can get into that shell, that deep hole and it's hard to come out of when you're the franchise quarterback and you can't win games for your franchise. That first year, (Trevor) could've went any other way. Could have dealt with the hype that they threw on him, saying that he can't win, and could have been whatever quarterback he decided to be. And I feel like that's a similar situation that Bryce is in right now."

Trevor Lawrence

The quarterback Lawrence decided to be was one that led his scrappy team to a playoff berth the next season, winning a Wild Card game that was the third largest comeback in NFL history, and has his team within grasp of a playoff spot again this year despite a veritable barrage of injuries to Lawrence.

A lot of Lawrence's success is due not just to his own ascension, but those around him as well, as Chark explained.

"A lot of times when you get drafted early, you're not drafted into the best situations all the time. And so it's a lot of different things that play a part. But with both of those guys, it's just being put in situations where when things start to go downhill, it's hard to ask for rookie to change it. It requires a lot of patience and help essentially, whether it's from teammates or coaches or anything like that."

Knowing things can change and being in the middle of the growing pains though are two different mindsets. As Young sits firmly in the latter at the moment, Lawrence's advice is to stay focused on what's to come.

"I would just say for him to stay the course. There's no denying he's a super-talented guy. Has all the tools and intangibles it seems like," Lawrence said. "But just to stay the course. Hopefully he's gonna have a long career. I think he's definitely got the talent and abilities to do that. Obviously things are a little grey right now, just the way the season's gone. But continue to plug away.

"Things will get better. I've got confidence in that, if he continues to be the same guy every day. That's what you need in those situations; a consistent leader, a guy that's gonna be the same. Obviously you're play on the field's important too, but off the field, just keeping everybody together and keeping the team tight and intact."

Being that leader off the field comes, according to Griffin, by never losing faith in yourself. It's how he saw Lawrence carry himself even when everything was falling apart around him. And it's a trait he sees in Young.

"He just got to keep the confidence and understand that this wasn't a mistake. I feel like a lot of people kind of veer away from that. Understand if you were drafted number one, that means you're supposed to be number one, so you got to hold yourself accountable, you got to carry yourself that way. And when you're going through a season like this, you can kind of veer away from it like, 'Maybe I'm not that guy.' Naw, walk into it, step into it. These are your shoes.

"If he can battle and keep that confidence going into year two, I can only imagine from everything he experienced this year, with the coach, losing a coach, and having to deal with the interim coach and still being the number one guy, still being the franchise quarterback, all the pressure is on your on your back, dealing with that; come out next year and showing the guys the reason why you went number one."

It can be lonely at the top.

But as the Panthers travel to Jacksonville this week to take on the 8-7 Jaguars (and the top seed in the AFC South), Young can look across to the other sideline and be reminded there is success on the other side.

Said Griffin, "The ultimate thing is understanding, keep the confidence, understand (being drafted number one) wasn't a mistake. If he can hold that going into next year, he'll be just fine."

View photos from the Panthers' practice as the team prepares to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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