Panthers QB Bryce Young seeks to change rough history of No. 1 picks in Week 1 debuts

For all the excitement surrounding Bryce Young, he is a rookie quarterback, and as such, he’ll face a learning curve that has made for a difficult start for many other No. 1 overall picks, as he was with the Carolina Panthers.

As he prepares for Sunday’s season opener and his NFL debut in Atlanta against the Falcons, Young will have a chance to end a nasty streak for quarterbacks selected with the top pick and starting as rookies in Week 1. The last time an NFL quarterback won under such circumstances, Young was 13 months old.

The winning quarterback was David Carr of the Houston Texans, who threw for two touchdowns and all of 145 yards in a 19-10 win over the Cowboys. Since then, eight quarterbacks have started as rookies in season openers, and none has won, with half of them throwing three interceptions in their debuts. To find a No. 1 pick who started in Week 1 as a rookie and didn’t throw an interception, you have to go clear back to 1990 and Jeff George, who lost that game and would follow up with four interceptions the next week.

To get a sense for what rookie quarterbacks have done in their Week 1 debuts, here are the last eight. None of them won his debut, and they combined for 11 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. The average game is 24-for-44 for 279 yards, and it’s worth noting that Young had only six games out of 34 at Alabama with that many pass attempts, including all four of his losses as a college starter.

Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars, 2021: Jacksonville lost 37-21 to Houston, which would lose its next eight games and finish 4-13. Lawrence finished 28-for-51 for 332 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions — 84 of those yards came on a final drive, down 20 points, with a score with nine seconds left.

Joe Burrow, Bengals, 2020: Cincinnati lost 16-13 to the Chargers, getting outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter. Burrow had a rushing touchdown early but didn’t pass for much — 23-for-36 for 193 yards with an interception, and 73 of those yards came on a final drive that ended with a 31-yard missed field goal. Incidentally, both Burrow and Lawrence lost their debuts to teams quarterbacked by Tyrod Taylor.

Kyler Murray, Cardinals, 2019: Arizona managed a 27-27 tie with the Lions, the best outcome of these eight quarterbacks. The Cardinals were down 17-3 at the half and 24-6 in the fourth quarter, but Murray threw for two touchdowns to force overtime. He finished 29-for-54 for 308 yards with the two touchdowns and an interception, but Arizona could only manage a field goal in the extra period.

Jameis Winston, Bucs, 2015: Going up against No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota, Winston and the Bucs took a 42-14 loss in his debut, with Winston ominously throwing a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt on the way to a 21-0 first-quarter deficit. He finished 16-for-33 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012: Luck had a great rookie season, but his debut was a 41-21 loss to the Bears, with three interceptions and four turnovers — both would end up tying as career highs. Luck finished 23-for-45 for 309 yards and one score against the three picks.

Best rookie quarterback this season?

Cam Newton, Panthers, 2011: It’s hard to blame Newton for Carolina’s 28-21 loss to Arizona, as he threw for 422 yards, going 24-for-37 with two touchdowns against one interception (with a rushing score as well). The Panthers gave up a 70-yard passing touchdown and an 89-yard punt-return touchdown in the fourth quarter. Newton got them to the Arizona 6-yard line, and on a fourth-and-5 there, he threw a 4-yard pass with 1:19 left, a turnover on downs two yards from a tying touchdown.

Sam Bradford, Rams, 2010: Another loss to Arizona, this one 17-13. Bradford went 32-for-55 for 253 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. The Rams led 13-10 in the fourth and lost despite Bradford attempting 19 passes in the final six minutes. He got to the Cardinals’ 36 before throwing an interception on the final play of the game.

Matthew Stafford, Lions, 2009: This one was cruel: Stafford got his NFL baptism against Drew Brees, who had four touchdown passes in the first half and finished with six in the Saints‘ 45-27 win over Detroit. Stafford had a rough day — 16-for-37 for 205 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions, though he had a rushing touchdown.

So again, if Young can win Sunday against Atlanta, he’ll end a 21-year drought for a No. 1 pick starting in Week 1 as a rookie, and that could be the beginning of a more impressive feat. If he can lead Carolina to a division title, he’ll become the first quarterback taken No. 1 overall ever to do so as a rookie.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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