When you turn on Bryce Young’s film, it does not take long to find examples of him creating explosive plays. Both as a passer, and even a runner, Young’s ability to generate huge chunks of yardage for Alabama is a big reason why he is one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But it is the variety of ways he creates them which likely makes him a potential high-end starter in the NFL.
Explosive plays are the name of the game in the modern NFL, both creating them on offense, and stopping them on defense. According to this study from Rich Worsell, the offensive coordinator at UW Oshkosh, the top four teams in “Net Difference” between the offensive explosive plays they created, and the defensive explosive plays they allowed, were Philadelphia, Buffalo, Kansas City, and San Francisco.
Four of the league’s best teams.
As noted in that same study three of the league’s best offenses (in terms of points per game) were Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Kansas City. All three teams were also ranked in the top four of offensive explosive plays.
Score fast, score often, and keep the pressure on. That’s today’s NFL.
And that’s where Young fits in.
Young’s final college football game, the Sugar Bowl, offers a showcase in the various ways Young can create explosive plays for an NFL offense. Whether through design, creativity, or execution, Young is a walking explosive play just waiting to happen.
Certainly Young’s creativity and athleticism plays a role here, and we will get to that in a moment. But what sometimes gets lost in the discussion regarding the Alabama passer is how surgical he can be from the pocket. His combination of awareness, accuracy, arm talent, and ability to decode defenses on the fly creates opportunities for his offense all over the field.
Take this touchdown against Kansas State, as he navigates the backside cornerback dropping underneath this route:
There is only one spot where Young can put this throw to ensure a completion.
That is exactly where he puts it.
You often hear of analysts talk about “problem solving” as a quarterback. This is a very tough throw, as Young targets a receiver moving away from him in the back corner of the end zone off a half-roll to the left. Young has to navigate not just the defender underneath, but the sideline and the end line.
Speaking of arm talent, this throw certainly stands out as a nice way to create an explosive in the passing game. Watch as Young drills in a vertical route along the left sideline, throwing from the right hashmark:
This is a stick concept, with the outside receiver releasing vertically while the two inside receivers run stick routes underneath. Generally speaking, coaches give the outside vertical route an “alert” tag — Kyle Shanahan does that in his playbooks for example — where the quarterback will give that route a quick look and if it is wide open they can throw the vertical. However, in most cases the QB will work the two inside stick routes when it is run out of a 3x1 formation as it is here.
Alert tags are just a suggestion for Young, and he puts this throw in perfectly.
Performing under pressure and punishing the blitz
My college teammates used to joke that I was the world’s greatest 7-on-7 quarterback.
When there was not pressure in my face, and I was able to see the entire field — more on that in a second — I was fantastic. Okay, well, I was good. Let’s slow things down here.
But when I had to play, you know, real football things changed. Pressure would cause me to panic, and as a smaller quarterback I struggled to see the complete field.
I’ve lived those moments in the pocket, when you cannot see routes in the middle of the field and you pull the football down and try to create because you simply do not know what else to do.
Young does not have that problem, not at all.
Over his career at Alabama he became so adept at creating throwing lanes with his eyes and feet, that attacking the middle of the field is one of his better traits. And staring down pressure? He thrives in those moments.
Take this big play from the Sugar Bowl:
Young has pressure in his face off the left edge, but he is able to work around that pressure, adjusting his mechanics and release point to get this throw over the pressure, yet still drop it in perfectly.
Other quarterbacks might move off the spot here, and miss the window to throw. Young stares down the pressure, and solves yet another problem, leading to another Alabama explosive play.
Blitz him at your peril.
As a quarterback you should want to be blitzed. This is a chance to create an explosive play in the passing game, by replacing the blitz with the football and making the defensive coordinator think twice about bringing pressure. Want to throw from some clean pockets? Make the defense pay when they come after you.
On this play, the Wildcats send pressure from the second level. Watch as Young waits in the pocket, and then replaces that pressure with the football, hitting his tight end on a crossing route:
If you are worried about him seeing the middle of the field, the end zone angle of this play should be a welcome relief. You’ll see Young peek the vertical routes on the outside, pick up the blitz and then his tight end with his eyes, and deliver a perfect throw from a collapsing pocket.
Magic in the pocket
I am very hesitant to use one play to summarize a player.
But with Young, there are certainly some options.
This last play we will look at is another “one play” moment from his college career that you might see on Thursday night when Young comes off the board. With Alabama facing third and long early in the game, the Crimson Tide empty the formation and put running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the slot on the left.
As you watch this play, take note of Young’s eyes. As the pocket collapses around him he continues to keep his eyes downfield, maneuvering around the pressure and putting himself in position to create yet another explosive play in the passing game:
Let’s walk through what Young does with his eyes here. Alabama runs a weakside option concept on the left, with the outside receiver breaking vertically while Gibbs runs an option route out of the slot. Young peeks that vertical route right at the snap, but then gets his eyes to the right, where the Crimson Tide are running a layered, three-receiver concept.
That is when the pressure comes, so he uses his feet to navigate the multiple pressure points in the pocket. As he does so, Young gets his eyes to Gibbs who is now working across the field. It is just a six-yard throw, but it leads to a 60-yard catch-and-run for Gibbs.
This is high-level quarterback play, and perhaps the ultimate example of Young solving problems and creating explosive plays at the same time.
And the perfect example of why Young might be the first player taken on Thursday night.