Coach Frank Reich made it through about 30 minutes of questioning at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix on Tuesday without tipping which quarterback the Carolina Panthers will select with the top pick of the draft.
But he offered nuggets inside the evaluation process that revealed more about what he and general manager Scott Fitterer will do when they sit down in about two weeks and nail down their choice between Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson still are being evaluated, so they’re still technically in the running. Reich even said there are moments on Richardson’s film that “scream top pick.’’
But according to sources with knowledge of the search, the Panthers’ choice is between Stroud and Young.
The biggest difference between the two is size, which took up a considerable amount of Reich’s time at Tuesday’s annual media breakfast.
Young is 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds. Stroud is 6-3, 214.
Reich made it clearer than he has at any point during the process that this is more about durability than height, and that durability is a concern with Young due to his stature, though he missed only one game at Alabama.
“Absolutely [durability] is a consideration,’’ Reich said. “Also a consideration [is] his playmaking ability, his accuracy and his leadership, his instincts.’’
Those positive factors — in addition to his processing, which Alabama coach Nick Saban said is “off-the-charts good’’ — are why Reich doesn’t view height as a concern with Young.
But as Reich noted, there aren’t a lot of injury analytics on short, successful NFL quarterbacks (mainly because there haven’t been many) to consider outside of Drew Brees (6-foot) and Russell Wilson (5-11).
So he referenced a couple of players at other positions who were smallish in stature and went on to have Hall of Fame careers. Read into that what you want.
“Marvin Harrison as a receiver,’’ Reich said of the 6-foot star he helped coach from 2006 to 2008 as an assistant with the Indianapolis Colts. “He just had an incredible ability to take hits. I played with Barry Sanders. He had that knack for not taking the big hits.’’
Reich went on to remind that Stroud, as well as Levis and Richardson, “all are pretty good’’ at avoiding hits.
“But since you’re asking about Bryce, he’s good at being instinctive in the pocket and minimizing [hits],’’ Reich continued. “If you’re a quarterback, can you minimize the number of big hits and the intensity of those hits? They’re all going to get hit. We know that.
“But there’s a way to minimize those hits. Being instinctive.’’
Reich’s history suggest he favors taller quarterbacks. He hasn’t started one who was under 6-2 in 17 years as a coach.
But as Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson reminded, Reich understands the NFL is changing and quarterbacks coming out of college are smaller and more athletic than when Pederson and Reich played, mostly in the ’80s and ’90s.
As a result, he added, the game is changing to adapt to those players.
Pederson, who hired Reich as his offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles for 2016 and 2017, believes whichever quarterback the Panthers choose will have a chance to succeed because of Reich.
“He’s the right guy with any young quarterback,’’ he said.
Current Eagles coach Nick Sirianni agreed, although he can’t predict how much size will be a factor in Reich’s final decision.
“I just think he’ll look to get the best guy,’’ he said.
Reich isn’t ready to say who the best guy is, but he did thank owner David Tepper for making it clear he and Fitterer will make the final call. He also noted Tepper has been a big part of the evaluation process, particularly as it pertains to bringing levity to moments.
“He’s got a great sense of humor,’’ Reich said. “That’s part of the chemistry, the going back and forth. Mr. Tepper would fit in well in the locker room. He’s good at bantering. We all love that.’’
The next step in the process is Richardson’s pro day on Thursday, followed by visits to Charlotte, North Carolina the next two weeks by all four quarterbacks.
They won’t be asked to throw again. That part of the evaluation is complete. The visits will be getting to know more about the player who will become the face of the franchise.
It’ll even be valuable for evaluating Levis and Richardson, in case the Panthers are looking at them again in a few years if their pick this year fails.
While Reich hasn’t shared his favorite with Fitterer, he doesn’t expect it to differ in the end. He’s that confident in the process.
He compared the ultimate reveal to one of the home remodeling shows on HGTV, which earned him his biggest laugh of the session.
“The building of a house, the remodeling of a house, it’s a process,’’ Reich said. “But its not like you don’t see it where [the owners] don’t. We’re actually the ones doing the work. It’s not like we’re the homeowners who are going away and coming back.
“So we’re kind of building this together and seeing it unfold. … Although there has not been that sit-down moment of let’s confirm this, I think along the way it’s developing together.’’