Alabama pro day is Bryce Young’s latest chance to prove he’s No. 1

AP photo by Vasha Hunt / NFL prospect Bryce Young throws during Alabama's pro day Thursday in Tuscaloosa.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama football coach Nick Saban believes Bryce Young, the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback the past two seasons, will be the best prospect available when the NFL draft begins April 27 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Now, though, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is trying to convince the league's teams — particularly the Carolina Panthers, who will pick first — that Saban is right. Young's latest opportunity came Thursday, during Alabama's pro day at his old practice facility.

"We think he's the best player in the draft," Saban said.

Young, who didn't throw at the NFL scouting combine earlier this month in Indianapolis, threw a scripted series of 50 passes mostly to former teammates before a large contingent of league coaches, scouts and executives representing all 32 teams. Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud are considered the top possibilities to be the first player drafted.

"It was great to be back here throwing to my guys again," Young said. "This was a really cool experience. I always dreamed of having a pro day, and to be able to have it means a lot to me."

The Panthers continued their tour of quarterback prospects for the No. 1 pick they acquired from the Chicago Bears in a trade two weeks ago. A dozen Carolina officials — including team owners Dave and Nicole Tepper, coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer — took Young to dinner before taking in his pro day performance.

That doesn't mean they're tipping their hand. The Panthers did the same with Stroud this week and attended his pro day on Wednesday. The Panthers said on the team website that they would head to see Kentucky's Will Levis throw on Friday, with Florida's Anthony Richardson having his pro day next Thursday.

Young described the dinner as "a big feeling-out process."

"I was super honored with all that people that I met with," he said. "We were able to talk about a lot of things on and off the field. I really enjoyed it."

He said he hadn't set up any meetings with other teams yet.

Other head coaches present Thursday included Dennis Allen (New Orleans Saints), Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks), Matt Eberflus (Chicago), Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins) and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers). There were also nine general managers present, according to Alabama.

Young threw passes at various distances to former Tide receiver Slade Bolden; fellow prospects Cameron Latu, who is a tight end, and Jahmyr Gibbs, who is a running back; and current Alabama receivers Ja'Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton. He threw on the move, under simulated pressure and after taking some snaps from under center — which he didn't do all that much for the Tide, who typically lined up in the shotgun.

His one obvious mistake: A deep ball hit the ceiling in the indoor facility.

Young's size — 5-foot-10, 204 pounds — has been talked about as the main thing that could cause NFL teams to have second thoughts. Beyond that, Saban said, "there's really no negatives."

"The only negative that anybody can bring is what is his height?" said Saban, who has experience as an NFL assistant and was head coach of the Dolphins for two seasons (2005-06).

Saban's time in Miami preceded him taking over at Alabama and followed his stints as a head coach at Michigan State and LSU.

"Drew Brees was always the biggest nemesis Nick Saban ever had," the coach said of himself, "whether it was at Michigan State when he was at Purdue or in the NFL. And he was 5-11 something. I don't think it's an issue. It wasn't an issue in his college career.

"And he's going to play against some of the same players in that league that he's played against in the SEC. We think he's fantastic."

Young is letting others debate who should be No. 1.

"I don't have an argument. I try to be myself," he said. "I don't control where I'm picked, who picks me. I'll be grateful for whatever team takes a chance on me."

Alabama's other potential top-five pick, linebacker Will Anderson Jr., was on hand during pro day as a spectator, standing by his combine performance. He said his only team visit so far has been with the Houston Texans, who pick second and 12th and are also in the market for a quarterback.

Like Saban, Anderson doesn't believe Young's height will keep him from succeeding in the NFL.

"I don't think he's too short to play quarterback," Anderson said. "He's done a phenomenal job here at Alabama. I could put all faith in him to go out there and do what he needs to do.

"He's a great friend, great brother, great teammate. And I wouldn't rather have anybody else to be my QB on my team than Bryce Young."