Justin Fields

How Bears evaluated Panthers' Bryce Young during pre-draft process

The Bears passed on drafting Bryce Young last spring, but that doesn't mean the rookie QB didn't leave a positive impression on the staff

Bryce Young
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Last offseason, the Bears faced a massive and potentially franchise-altering decision: Do they stick with Justin Fields at quarterback or trade him and draft a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick?

General manager Ryan Poles said he'd have to be "blown away" by Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, or Will Levis to move off Fields. The Bears did their due diligence on a quarterback class that was perceived as weak but eventually decided to stick with Fields and trade the No. 1 pick to the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver DJ Moore and draft capital.

The Panthers selected Young, the Alabama star and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, with the top pick, while the Bears rolled into the 2022 season with Fields at the helm.

Neither season has gone according to plan through nine weeks. The Bears are 2-7 after a sloppy loss to the New Orleans Saints. Fields was inconsistent early on and has missed the past three games with a dislocated right thumb.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are 1-7 and have already made a midseason change at play-caller. Young has struggled through his first eight games. The rookie signal-caller has thrown for just 1,375 yards, eight touchdowns, and seven interceptions, including two pick-sixes in a Week 9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Young is completing just 63.9 percent of his passes, and his 29.5 QBR ranks 32nd in the NFL.

The Bears will get their first NFL look at Young on Thursday when the Panthers visit Soldier Field. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy liked what he saw from Young during the pre-draft process, but the Bears' decision-makers didn't see enough to prioritize picking Young over sticking with and developing Fields.

"Yeah, we were very impressed with him," Getsy said of Young on Tuesday at Halas Hall. "We were at his pro day, too, and very impressive. Accuracy was easy. That's the thing that stood out for the kid is no matter it was down the field, under 20 yards or under 10 yards, the ability to get the ball out quick. He showed a lot of the cool things you're looking for in a guy to be a natural passer."

"He was an accurate son of a gun," quarterback coach Andrew Janocko said. "He was somebody who he was a winner. Smart. I just thought he was on time. He knew what he had to do on each play. I thought he had a really good understanding of the game, a really good understanding of everything going on around him. So that was something that really struck me.

Thursday's game could have wide-ranging implications for the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Bears own the Panthers' first-round pick as part of the package Carolina sent to Chicago for the pick that became Young. Currently, the Bears are slated to hold the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. But the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants are actually in pole position for the top two picks, according to ESPN's FPI.

The Giants, who are without quarterback Daniel Jones for the rest of the season, have the sixth-toughest schedule remaining, while the Cardinals are right behind them at seven. On the other hand, the Bears have the 24th hardest remaining schedule, while the Panthers have the fifth-easiest remaining slate.

A win on Thursday would put the Bears at 3-7 and move them into the No. 6 slot in the draft while pushing the Panthers closer toward the No. 1 pick.

Young could still have a long, successful career as an NFL starting quarterback. But he has struggled this season, and the Bears have to make sure that continues Thursday night.

But little has gone right for the Bears this season. Getting picked apart by the guy they passed on last spring would be just the latest calamity in a campaign filled with rake-stepping moments.

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