When the Chicago Bears traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers back in March it defined and reshaped the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Panthers indicated they liked multiple quarterbacks at the time. The coaches and scouts did their due diligence and selected Alabama’s Bryce Young roughly six weeks later. Another option -- Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud -- went second overall to the Houston Texans.
Halfway through their respective rookie seasons -- even after the Panthers beat the Texans in Week 8 -- Stroud has clearly outshone Young to this point. Young also is coming off a rough performance (three interceptions, including two pick-sixes) this past Sunday in a loss to the Colts.
The Bears received a king’s ransom in return for the pick that became Young, including a few players who figure to play big parts in Thursday’s game.
One is wide receiver DJ Moore, who is facing his former team for the first time. Another is right tackle Darnell Wright, who indirectly landed in Chicago via that March trade and who has had some high moments as a rookie starter. Acquiring additional picks also allowed general Ryan Poles to land pass rusher Montez Sweat at the trade deadline last week.
The decision to send the top pick to the Panthers, however, will continue to pay off for the Bears.
Chicago will receive the 1-7 Panthers' first-round pick next year, providing the Bears even more incentive to win Thursday night. Each Carolina loss moves that pick up, even if Chicago's own pick slides down the draft order with each subsequent victory. The Bears currently hold the No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the 2024 draft thanks to their trade with the Panthers.
Here are four things to watch for when the Panthers visit the Bears on Thursday night on Prime Video:
- Bryce Young badly needs a quality performance. Did the Panthers draft the wrong QB? It’s likely too early to say yes, but that’s what direction it’s leaning now. After arguably his best NFL performance in a Week 8 win over Houston, Young’s worst game came Sunday when he threw a career high three INTs, including two pick-sixes that provided the Colts the winning margin. The Panthers suffer from spotty pass protection and a lack of difference-making weapons. But the lack of long pass plays remains a big issue. Prior to Week 8, the team hadn’t completed a pass longer than 30 yards with Young at QB. Young’s turnovers have been sporadic but painful. The interceptions have come in bunches -- two or more in three separate games -- but six of the seven have resulted in opponents’ scores. To Young’s credit, he’s cut back on fumbles after having three in his first three starts, and he’s bought more time with his legs and has improved at extending plays, picking up extra yards in recent games. Young is smart, tough and fairly accurate, but the Panthers have had to trudge down the field at times, one short pass after another. Head coach Frank Reich said he has not considered benching Young, but another rough game could result in Andy Dalton playing at some point.
- Get ready for the Tyson Bagent experience again. Justin Fields listed as doubtful for TNF and is expected to miss another week due to a right thumb injury. The Bears want to see as much as possible of Fields before the 2024 NFL Draft, but head coach Matt Eberflus told reporters on Wednesday that Fields has not yet been medically cleared. For the past three-plus games, Bagent has at times shown some impressive skills in place of Fields. Bagent moves well (97 yards rushing, two TDs), has good accuracy on short and intermediate passes (67.3% completions) and spins a nice ball. However, he’s become turnover-prone with six (five INTs, one fumble) in his past two games, with four of those giveaways coming in the fourth quarter at New Orleans. The Bears had multiple chances to seize the game or tie it, but Bagent’s awful quarter gave up a shot at a road victory. Even with just five INTs this season, Carolina’s pass defense has been pretty solid, allowing fewer than 180 yards per game. They’ve been even stingier the past two games, allowing a total of 239 pass yards and only one reception longer than 19 yards.
- Injuries are badly hurting Carolina’s depth. The Bears are dealing with notable injuries, but the Panthers might have even more health concerns entering Thursday night. Carolina will be without one of their best defenders in edge Brian Burns (concussion/elbow), as well as CB C.J. Henderson (concussion). The secondary could be more depleted with safeties Xavier Woods (thigh) and Vonn Bell (quadriceps) questionable -- Woods the longer shot to play. The Panthers also will be without wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (ankle) and tight end Stephen Sullivan (shoulder), while D.J. Chark (elbow) is doubtful to play. Losing Burns stings the most individually, but the Panthers’ pass defense might take a collective hit if three or four regular contributors can’t go. Offensively, Young likely will have limited receiving options, and the Bears are a tough team to run against. Veteran receiver Adam Thielen has twice as many targets as any other Panthers and figures to be busy, even if he’s not had much career success against the Bears. Jonathan Mingo would figure to be next in the pecking order, but Young has looked for his tight ends more in recent games.
- DJ Moore, Dont’a Foreman look to feast against their former team. Like the Panthers, the Bears have limited offensive weaponry. But two of their best options on Thursday played for Carolina last season. Moore has been a good addition for Chicago. He is on pace for nearly 1,400 receiving yards this season and has a chance to break Brandon Marshall’s franchise record of 1,508 yards, set in 2012. But since Moore’s 230-yard, three-TD against the Commanders in Week 5, he has totaled only 204 yards and zero TDs on 20 catches in his past four outings. You know the Panthers would love to corral their former teammate, and our best guess is that cornerback Donte Jackson (who celebrated his 28th birthday on Wednesday) could earn that assignment. These two know each other very well, they were apart of the same 2018 draft class and went head-to-head in practice for five years as teammates. Foreman led the Panthers’ surprising late-season success in 2022, but they let him walk this offseason -- and given the lack of a power runner this season, you have to wonder if they regret that decision. Foreman started slowly this season, but he has anchored the Bears’ rushing attack since Khalil Herbert landed on injured reserve. Expect the Bears will use Foreman to grind away at Carolina’s defense.