Is No. 1 pick Bryce Young prepared to buck history, lead Panthers to Week 1 win?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You could almost hear the proverbial wheels churning in Bryce Young’s head when asked what happened on Sept. 4, 2021.

"It's 2023," said the Carolina Panthers' rookie quarterback, breaking down the question like he would a defense before the snap. "So that was two years ago. ... Is that when [Alabama's] season started?"

It was, but to be more specific, that's when Young made his first college start, an impressive one at that. He completed 27 of 38 pass attempts for 344 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions in a 44-13 dismantling of 14th-ranked Miami.

It was the first time in the storied history of Alabama that a quarterback threw four touchdown passes in his first start. It kickstarted an undefeated regular season for the Crimson Tide -- who lost to Georgia in the College Football Playoff championship game -- and a Heisman Trophy for Young.

"It also was at Mercedes-Benz Stadium," Young said of the 2021 season opener.

Young's first NFL start will come at the same stadium he made his college debut, as the Panthers open at the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

It begged the question: Is the top pick of the draft as ready for this debut as he was for his 2021 one?

From Panthers teammates and coaches to Alabama coach Nick Saban, the answer is an overwhelming yes. And for many of the same reasons the answer was yes in 2021.

But history says a quarterback taken with the No. 1 overall pick of the draft, as Young was in April, doesn't often have success in the opener. The past eight have a combined 33 QBR and 0-7-1 record, with Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals getting a tie against the Detroit Lions in 2019.

Not since David Carr in 2002 has a quarterback taken with the top pick won his team's opener. He completed 10 of 22 pass attempts for 145 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception as the Houston Texans beat the Dallas Cowboys 19-10.

The last time a quarterback taken No. 1 by Carolina started the opener was 2011. Cam Newton threw for 422 yards, two touchdown passes and an interception. He also ran for 18 yards and another score.

But as spectacular as the reigning 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was, the Panthers lost 28-21 en route to a 6-10 record.

That's a reminder that quarterbacks taken No. 1 typically don't go to competitive teams. But then-Panthers coach Ron Rivera believed Newton was ready to start for the same reason new Carolina coach Frank Reich believes Young is ready.

"Because I really did believe the guy could do it," Rivera said.

History still indicates a rough start for the team, even if Young has success individually.

Of the 24 quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2016, only nine have started the opener, and they have a 2-6-1 record. The last win came from Sam Darnold, taken No. 3 overall by the New York Jets in 2018.

Only 23 of 44 quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2008 have started Week 1.

The fact that Young, C.J. Stroud (No. 2 overall) of the Texans and Anthony Richardson (No. 4 overall) of the Indianapolis Colts are starting the opener as rookies is impressive. That they are starting for teams that were a combined 14-55-2 in 2022 puts their chances of being successful in perspective.

Reich, a former NFL quarterback, understands that.

"Listen, I don't want to overstate this," he said. "Obviously, we think very highly of [Bryce], but this isn't going to be a cakewalk. This is going to be fight and scratch every step of the way. He's got to fight to get better. He's a really, really good player, but he's got a lot to learn."

Coming to a Carolina team that was 7-10 last season and surrounded by a veteran staff, Young appears set up best for initial success compared to Stroud and Richardson.

And again, it's for many of the same reasons he was successful in his first start at Alabama.

"Bryce is a really bright guy and he's a great preparer for games," said Saban. "He's got a lot of pride in performance, so I'm sure he'll do everything he can with his coaches to try and execute and do the things the way he needs to do for him to have success and for his team to have success."

That being said, ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky reminded no rookie quarterback is "ever ready" for all he'll experience that first game.

"It's like becoming a parent," he said. "Are you ready? Absolutely not. But if you have any form of skills that allow you to survive a little bit -- because that's what it is early on -- and then with those skills, can you thrive?'"

Orlovsky saw two things during the preseason that makes him believe Young can survive early.

"One, his skill to throw to guys who are covered," he said. "He has anticipation and accuracy. Anybody can anticipate and anybody can be accurate. Can you do them at the same time?"

Orlovsky noted Young’s touchdown pass to veteran receiver Adam Thielen in the third preseason game.

"That ball's out of his hands so much sooner than Thielen's ready for it," he said. "That's the big thing, because they don't have [receivers] that are going to win consistently.

"Then Bryce is going to have to be really good at evading unblocked guys or free runners; guys that win in his pass rush. That's the things that stand out for Bryce, the quick mind, the processing."

Thielen agreed.

"That's what makes you feel comfortable going into the huddle with a guy like that," he said. "It's not, 'I think you can do it.' He's proven it day in and day out with his preparation and his mentality, his humility and then his playmaking ability."

Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson could tell in offseason workouts that Young had what it takes.

"He had one ball ... it was nice," he recalled. "Just the way he just fit it in the pocket. When a DB [defensive back] is on a wide receiver and he fits it right in that pocket covered, that's a [big-time] type play."

Backup quarterback Andy Dalton sees some of the same instincts in Young that he saw in himself as a Week 1 starter for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011 after being selected in the second round.

Dalton was successful in his first start without having to do a lot. He was 10-for-15 for 81 yards and a touchdown pass with no interceptions in a win over the Cleveland Browns.

"Just Bryce's understanding of the game and everything we're asking him to do," Dalton said. "You can tell he's prepared. You can tell he gets it. He comes in and feels comfortable, confident. He's making suggestions on things he likes and how he wants it.

"That's exactly how you have to do it."

The seven top picks to start the opener since 2010 totaled 14 interceptions and 11 touchdowns, so avoiding big mistakes is key. Young was good at that in college and has been the same at Carolina. In three preseason appearances, he completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 129 yards and no interceptions.

He wasn't as spectacular in those games as he was in his first college start, and the Panthers were 0-3 in those games, but everything else Young showed in Atlanta in 2021 was there.

"We always knew he was special, in practice and whatnot," Alabama linebacker Chris Braswell recalled from that day two years ago. "So we knew he was gonna go out there and be that guy."