Alabama, Ohio State pro days back Panthers' No. 1 preferences

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Carolina Panthers traded for the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft to have a shot at Alabama's Bryce Young or Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, and consecutive pro days for the quarterbacks only reinforced that decision.

Carolina's large pro day contingent that has included owners David and Nicole Tepper will continue their evaluation of the draft's top quarterbacks -- Will Levis at Kentucky on Friday and Florida's Anthony Richardson on March 30.

And while nobody in the Carolina organization officially ruled out Levis or Richardson, league sources indicated that this is a two-quarterback race for the top pick.

Alabama coach Nick Saban believes Carolina saw not only the best quarterback, but perhaps the best player in the draft on Thursday.

Saban said Young's processing is "off-the-charts good'' and noted the 21-year-old plays quarterback like a point guard in basketball.

"I can't figure out the negative with who he is and how he prepares,'' Saban said.

The only negative is Young's height. He's 5-foot-10 in a league where the average height of a quarterback is around 6-3. Stroud is 6-3.

"Hopefully, he'll be the first pick in the draft,'' said Saban, who spent time Thursday talking to the Carolina contingent, including Tepper and coach Frank Reich. "Nobody knows that for sure. But we're certainly hopeful, and we think he's the best player in the draft.''

The Panthers have done their best to downplay the significance of Young's height. Reich, who hasn't had a starting quarterback shorter than 6-3 in 17 years as a coach, reminded earlier this week that he had a "very high'' grade on Russell Wilson (5-11) when the nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion was drafted in 2012.

General manager Scott Fitterer, who was on the Seattle staff that drafted Wilson in the third round, agreed.

"You just learn how to play with it,'' he said on Thursday of Young's height. "You don't see balls getting knocked down. He has no problem seeing over the middle of the field, processing. He's off the charts as a processor.

"I don't see height as a factor.''

Young did have one pass knocked down Thursday -- by the roof of Alabama's practice facility on a deep pass. Otherwise, he was spot on other than three drops that all hit the receivers in the hands.

He was, as Fitterer described at the NFL combine, "Just chill ... Nothing's too big for him.''

Young was so chill on Thursday that one analyst who attended both pro days gave Young the advantage.

But the past few days for Carolina was more about getting to know Young and Stroud better as people. Both had dinner the night before their workouts with the Teppers, Reich, Fitterer and others in a contingent that included 12 at Ohio State and 11 at Alabama.

A similar cast will go through the same process with Levis and Richardson.

The evaluation process is expected to continue for several more weeks with all four quarterbacks coming to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit the team facility before the Panthers indicate who they will select.

Asked what he learned the past few days about Young and Stroud that he didn't already know, Fitterer didn't hesitate.

"Just how smart they are; how mature they are for 21-year-olds,'' he said. "You're asking these guys to come in and lead the franchise and be the face of the franchise at 21. How special these guys are is what we're learning.''

Young and Stroud downplayed their case for being the top pick, although Stroud admitted that's where he'd like to go.

"It's been a dream of mine for a very, very long time,'' he said Wednesday. "My dad used to make me wear a first-round draft pick, first pick of the draft shirt. It was either basketball or football. He set that foundation early on.

"I definitely want to accomplish that.''

Said Young on Thursday, "I don't have an argument. I want to present myself in the best light. But I don't control where I'm picked, who picks me. I'll be grateful for whatever team takes a chance on me.''

Neither quarterback ran the 40-yard dash at their pro day. Young's mobility never has been a factor with NFL scouts who watched him extend plays well enough the past two seasons to throw for 8,200 yards and 79 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions.

Stroud didn't have to extend plays as much playing behind a more stable line, particularly this past season, that didn't force him out of the pocket as much. But Stroud is confident he's mobile enough for the NFL.

"None of the teams asked me to,'' Stroud said when explaining his decision not to run on Wednesday. "If they would've, I would've. When I need to extend plays, I can extend them just as far as anybody else in the country.''

Both showed in their pro days they can throw on the run, throw at different angles and throw accurately deep.