SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Bryce Young stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure, pulled his right arm back slightly below shoulder level and unleashed a side-armed strike to Carolina Panthers wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. that never got more than five yards off the ground.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft has had at least one unorthodox throw like this almost every day in training camp, but this one on Tuesday was extra special.
It was a reminder that Young, 22, grew up emulating the footwork and arm angles of 39-year-old Aaron Rodgers, who on Wednesday worked on an adjacent field as Carolina and the New York Jets held the first of two joint practices.
“He just opened that window, that door, for people to change arm angles,’’ said Young, calling Rodgers’ influence on his style "huge."
“There [once] was a negative stigma where you have to do this; you have to throw the same way every time. He was one of those main guys that was able to perform consistently and stuck to that and made that a part of who he was.’’
Carolina coach Frank Reich doesn’t like comparing players, particularly when one is a rookie and the other a four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion. But even Reich couldn’t deny the similarities between the arm angles that make Rodgers and Young unique.
The throw to Chark exemplified that.
“That’s an elite throw,’’ Reich said. “And how quick it gets out. That’s the thing with Aaron, he not only can throw at all those different arm angles, but the speed at which the ball gets out, there’s a special skill set for that.
“We believe Bryce has that same skill set.’’
Until Wednesday, Young hadn’t met his football role model. They’d never been on the same field.
Rookie & a vet 🤝 pic.twitter.com/eSVECWyydM— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 9, 2023
But those who have observed both over the years see the same thing Reich does.
“When you watch Aaron throw a ball, you’re like, ‘How does he do that?’ ... Bryce does the same thing,’’ Carolina tight end Tommy Tremble said. “He has one of those throws at every practice where you’re saying, ‘How did he do that? How did he fit it in that window? Like, how did he side-arm it backwards, route rolling.’
“He’s a magician, man.’’
It’s not just the arm angles that are similar to what Rodgers does. It’s the footwork and physical ability which allow both of them to contort their bodies to odd angles that don't require the quarterback to step into the throw and come over the top to be accurate.
“I sat back today and watched the stuff that he does,’’ Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst said during a recent veterans day. “It’s not always the most perfect footwork, but man he can rip it and put it on a dime. It’s pretty impressive.
“He makes those kind of off-schedule throws look pretty easy, like Aaron Rodgers does.’’
Rodgers didn’t always use the variety of arm angles he does now. As one coach who worked with the future Hall of Famer and studied Young before the draft noted, it took Rodgers a while to develop after he was selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers and spent three season as Brett Favre's backup.
But the coach sees the similarities in Rodgers and Young, including those that aren’t so obvious -- such as hand size. Both Rodgers and Young have large hands -- 10.125 inches and 9.75, respectively -- which helps them throw passes from different angles without losing ball security.
“So you can drop the ball down and still flip it and have good juice on the ball,’’ said the coach, who didn’t want his name used. “When I watched Bryce coming out, I saw some pretty good instincts and pretty good pocket movement too. He doesn’t have nearly the arm strength Aaron Rodgers has, but that’s not a bad thing. Aaron is just really special that way. One of the best ever.
“But in Bryce, I saw a guy that could run the offense, and he knew where to go with the ball.’’
ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, said what Young has in common with Rodgers is “creativity in the arm angle that doesn’t have a top and doesn’t have a bottom.’’
“Both of them can throw at any arm angle ... to make whatever throws they want to in that moment,’’ he said.
That helps both because neither are tall -- Rogers is 6-foot-2 and Young is 5-foot-10.
But both make up for that with the exceptional ability to process plays and break down defenses, and by using different arm angles to keep defenders off balance, as Rodgers did a few times on Wednesday with Carolina outside linebacker Brian Burns bearing down on him.
“Bryce is in a different category as far as rookie quarterbacks go,’’ Hurst said.
Jets coach Roger Saleh called Young an “exceptional point guard,’’ which fits right into what Reich envisioned when the Panthers traded up from No. 9 to No. 1 before the draft to get the former Alabama star.
“We want our quarterbacks to distribute the ball and be playmakers, be the Steph Curry,’’ Reich said, referring to the Golden State Warriors' star point guard. “That’s the big thing is just distribute the ball. You’ve got to attack the defense and make the defense declare what they’re going to do, and then you’ve got to be able to get the ball to the right guy.
“And at the end of the day, that’s what Bryce does best.’’
That Young is able to use so many different arm angles while doing that makes him more dangerous because there’s no throw he can’t make. He credits Rodgers, calling him a pioneer who opened the door for players such as himself and Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes in terms of making unorthodox throws.
Rodgers already is a Young fan.
“I like the kid a lot,’’ he said. “We share an agent, so I’ve known about him for a long time. I loved watching him in college, I like his demeanor, I like his movement, I like the way he plays.
“So I think Carolina’s in good shape,”