By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Nick Saban says his quarterback , Bryce Young, is the best prospect in the upcoming NFL draft.
Now, the star Alabama passer and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is trying to convince NFL teams — the Carolina Panthers, in particular — that the Crimson Tide coach is right, from the combine to Thursday’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 combine, threw a scripted series of 50 passes mostly to former teammates before a large contingent of NFL coaches, scouts and executives representing all 32 teams. Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are vying to be the first player taken on April 27.
“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 quarterback tour of prospects for the No. 1 pick they acquired from Chicago in a trade. A dozen team officials, including 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 web site 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 included Matt Eberflus (Chicago Bears), Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins), Dennis Allen (New Orleans Saints), Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks) 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 tight end Cameron Latu and tailback Jahmyr Gibbs and current Alabama players Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton. He threw on the move, under simulated pressure and after taking some snaps from center, which he didn’t do all that much for the Tide.
His one obvious slip-up: A deep ball hit the ceiling in the indoor facility.
The most talked about issue facing Young is his size at 5-foot-10, 204 pounds. Beyond that, Saban said, “There’s really no negatives.”
“The only negative that anybody can bring is what is his height?” the former Miami Dolphins coach said.
“Drew Brees was always the biggest nemesis Nick Saban ever had, 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.”
For his part, Young isn’t getting into the “Who’s No. 1” debate.
“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 feel 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.”