Coming into the 2023 NFL season, I had high hopes for what the Carolina Panthers might do with first overall pick Bryce Young, especially under Frank Reich's tutelage. Now, 12 weeks into the quarterback's rookie season, the organization has fired Reich and a pair of offensive assistants -- QBs coach Josh McCown and assistant HC/RBs coach Duce Staley -- after winning only one game in the first three months.
The win-loss record stands out, of course, but so does the lack of offensive production. The Panthers offense ranks in the bottom five of the league in points (15.7, 29th), total yards per game (265.9, 30th), pass yards per game (173.3, 30th), rush yards per game (92.6, 28th) and sacks allowed (43, 29th). Young has struggled behind a bad offensive line, throwing just nine TDs to eight INTs and getting sacked 40 times in his 10 starts. Owner David Tepper has handed the keys over to interim HC Chris Tabor, who previously served as the team's special teams coordinator. Senior assistant Jim Caldwell is serving as special advisor to OC Thomas Brown, who will resume play-calling, and it's time to explore how the Panthers can salvage the rookie quarterback's season.
The harsh reality in Carolina is that the offense is not very good from a talent standpoint, with a shallow pool of weapons in the pass game and an inconsistent run game. Young is being asked to do a lot and he doesn't have many answers to turn to. The focus should be on developing Young, and if the Panthers want him to be the long-term quarterback -- Tepper has said they do -- they need to empower him a little bit more.
I was in a similar situation during my rookie season with the Texans back in 2002. There was a ton on my plate and we were struggling as an offense because, quite frankly, my head was spinning trying to identify protections at the line of scrimmage. There is a lot to know: What's the coverage? Who is the defense's free rusher? Who is my checkdown option if I get through my progressions without an outlet to throw to? Once I started to understand these things on a play-by-play basis -- which didn't happen until after my rookie season -- everything started to click a little bit better. An example of a current player who's doing this maybe better than any other quarterback right now is the Eagles' Jalen Hurts. He's never in a hurry or panicked. And though he's playing behind an exceptional offensive line, he knows where his outlets are and when to use his legs to get a few yards if his first, second or third options aren't there in his progression.
Young showed mastery of Alabama's system during his college career, but that hasn't been the case this season in Carolina. Again, his supporting cast has not been very helpful in that regard. Veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen is the one guy the rookie has been able to count on to be in the right spot. But while Young is going through his progressions, he must also be fearing for his well being because he's unsure if his protection will hold up. The Commanders' Sam Howell is the only player who has taken more sacks than Young (55 to 40), and Howell has played in two more games than Young has this season.
There's no point in completely re-inventing this offense now or trying gadgety formations over the final six games of the season. What I'd love to see the Panthers do is give Young more ownership of the offense. They can do that by scripting around 10 plays and hammering those concepts in a hurry-up or no-huddle approach. The should allow the young signal-caller to play fast and comfortably in a simpler offense with fewer formations.
Helping Young develop must be top of mind, and this is one way to do it. At the very least, trying something different will help the Panthers assess where Young is at and what situations suit him best.
Top 15 offensive player rankings
Each week in the 2023 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. The Week 13 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 9's rankings.
Christian McCaffrey’s performance continues to be above the rest, no matter the opponent. He registered his 16th TD of the season in Thanksgiving night’s two-score outing against Seattle, which put McCaffrey (San Francisco, Carolina) alongside Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss (Minnesota, New England) as the only players in NFL history to score at least 16 scrimmage TDs in a season with two different teams, per NFL Research. If you don’t already have CMC in the MVP conversation, we need to talk.
After some ups and downs early in the season, Jalen Hurts has shown he's an MVP-caliber quarterback over the Eagles’ last five games (all wins). In that span, Hurts has a total of 17 touchdowns (11 passing, six rushing) to just three interceptions in victories over playoff contenders in the Dolphins, Cowboys, Chiefs and Bills. Hurts and the Eagles aren’t yet out of the woods with contests against San Francisco and Dallas on tap.
Lamar Jackson has the Baltimore Ravens positioned at the top of the AFC after helping them win six of their last seven games. In Sunday’s prime-time win over the Chargers, Jackson recorded his sixth game with at least one pass TD and zero picks (tied for the second-most in the NFL). Jackson has a real case to be the league MVP and could boost that résumé over the last five weeks, especially considering the Ravens will face four teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
After another impressive performance in Miami's Black Friday victory, Tyreek Hill is having a record-setting campaign with seven games with 100-plus receiving yards and at least one receiving touchdown in 2023. If the eighth-year veteran keeps his pace the rest of the way, he would finish the season with 2,046 receiving yards, which would be a single-season NFL record and most certainly win him an award in February.
Things aren’t quite as easy for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense in 2023. They averaged a measly 5.3 points per game in the second half in Weeks 1-11, the fewest in the league in that span. After a slow start against the Raiders in Week 12, the two-time MVP quarterback helped his team put 17 second-half points on the scoreboard on the way to a victory. The Chiefs, who currently are the second seed in the AFC, have yet to fully hit their stride offensively but one promising development is Mahomes’ connection with rookie wideout Rashee Rice, who has five TD receptions. Mahomes also has a 138.0 passer rating when targeting Rice (best in the NFL, min. 50 targets).
The Dolphins have won both games out of their Week 10 bye, which isn't a surprise considering they faced two teams with losing records (Miami is 8-0 against such teams in 2023). Taking advantage of the Dolphins' schedule, Tua Tagovailoa is the only quarterback this season who ranks in the top five in pass yards (3,177) and passer rating (103.7). Facing another sub-.500 club on Sunday in Washington, Tagovailoa has to be champing at the bit to build on his best season to date.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cowboys' game against the Seahawks on Thursday is not being factored into Prescott's ranking or the following analysis, which are solely meant to reflect Prescott's play heading into Week 13.
Dak Prescott has been lights out in his last five games for the Dallas Cowboys, a big improvement from early in the season. From Weeks 8 through 12, he has completed 70.6 percent of his passes, averaged 320.4 pass yards per game, and thrown 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions. With the help of Mike McCarthy's play-calling, Prescott has cemented himself as a contender in the MVP race.
A.J. Brown has been limited to 111 receiving yards over his last three games, a major decrease in production from Weeks 3 through 8, when he logged an NFL-record six straight games with 125-plus receiving yards. Despite a dip in yardage, Brown has still been a go-to target in the red zone, hauling in two TDs over the last three games -- including a 3-yard connection with Jalen Hurts in Sunday’s overtime win over Buffalo.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cowboys' game against the Seahawks on Thursday is not being factored into Lamb's ranking or the following analysis, which are solely meant to reflect Lamb's play heading into Week 13.
CeeDee Lamb has been a major player in Dak Prescott's impressive recent stretch. Prescott has 1,057 yards targeting the fourth-year wideout in 2023 -- without an interception. With Lamb’s ability to separate and pick up yards after the catch, he has joined Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens and Dez Bryant as the only players in team history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons.
C.J. Stroud has the Texans on the playoff bubble with six weeks to go -- something very few saw coming back in August. The rookie quarterback is averaging a league-high 296.9 pass yards per game (most all time by a rookie), and he has thrown for the second-most pass yards (3,266) by any player in his first 11 career games in NFL history, trailing only Patrick Mahomes (3,628). Stroud is showing Houston that he’s something special.
Josh Allen and the Bills have hit a very rough patch, losing four of their last six games. Turnovers have been a killer during that stretch. Despite the losses, which have all been by one score, Allen leads the league with 33 total touchdowns. He has the goods to get Buffalo out of its slump after the bye week, but with a tough schedule upcoming, Allen must protect the ball.
With so much talent around him, it’s easy to overlook how efficient Brock Purdy has been this season. The second-year quarterback leads the league in completion percentage (70.2), pass yards per attempt (9.4) and passer rating (112.3). He has bounced back from a turnover-filled October with a stellar November to get the 49ers back into first place in the NFC West.
DJ Moore is quietly having a great season in Chicago despite not having Justin Fields in the lineup for four games. Moore put on a show with a career-high 11 catches and 114 receiving yards in a prime-time win over Minnesota in Week 12. Heading into the Bears’ Week 13 bye, Moore is one of just five players with 1,000 receiving yards in 2023.
Trevor Lawrence had his best game of the season right when he needed it last week, throwing for 364 yards in a road win over the Texans to give the Jaguars some breathing room at the top of the AFC South. Lawrence has thrived as a downfield passer in his second season under Doug Pederson -- thanks, in part, to the addition of Calvin Ridley -- registering career-highs with 19 completions, 583 pass yards and a 123.7 passer rating on throws of 20-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. With Lawrence continuing to improve, the Jaguars feel like one of those frisky teams that no one will want to play come January.
I’m giving T.J. Hockenson some love as he leads all tight ends in receiving yards through 12 weeks with 786. He has been a go-to target in Minnesota for Kirk Cousins and Joshua Dobbs despite sharing the field with a pair of top-tier wide receivers in Justin Jefferson (prior to his injury) and Jordan Addison.
JUST MISSED: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (previously No. 7); Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (No. 8); Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 9); Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills (No. 10); Jordan Addison, WR, Minnesota Vikings (No. 11); Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 13); George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers (No. 14); Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 15).