After Young’s undisciplined roughing the passer penalty with six seconds left Sunday in Detroit, a gaffe that led to a game-winning 59-yard field goal, the entire season of the Washington rookie has come under scrutiny.
Others are seeing — and worrying about — things I’ve noticed, too. I admit to a Young obsession. As soon as it looked like Washington might spend an incredibly valuable pick on him, I’ve taped every game he has played — his last two in college and every contest during his rookie season. I’ve watched every Young snap, often in slow motion, to see what this exalted prodigy might become.
I’m still waiting for the Real Chase Young to show up.
Young is a good pro, a high-energy player, but, so far, not an impact star — or close to it. You don’t feel his presence. He doesn’t distort opposing offenses and is often handled, even schooled, one-on-one, by tackles who outweigh him by 60 pounds. Even though Young is 6-foot-5, 264 pounds, they blunt his bull rushes, often easily, and, with their NFL-level balance and footwork, they stay engaged and redirect his speed rushes far past the quarterback.
If Young had been picked somewhere in the middle of the first round like Washington’s other defensive linemen — Daron Payne, Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat — then you’d just say, “Even first-round picks have to learn. He’ll be fine.” But No. 2 overall picks are gold. No, make that uranium. In 58 years, D.C. has not had a single No. 1 overall pick and only three No. 2s.
At that level, instant analysis is inevitable. It comes with the altitude. Young’s stats — mediocre across the board and far below those of the Sweat, the team’s other starting defensive end — may understate his value.
Young’s high football IQ keeps him in proper position, seldom suckered like a rookie by misdirection. Foes respect him enough that they seldom make him the point of attack. Young is also often “in the vicinity” of making plays, but not close enough. The facts: Young is less effective statistically, per snap, than Ryan Kerrigan, who lost his starting job.
Young comes under the microscope not only because Washington took him at No. 2. but also because of who it didn’t draft at that spot — namely, quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert. Such a move would necessitate at trade of Dwayne Haskins, the first-round pick from 2019 who is currently on the bench. Washington may have misevaluated all three quarterbacks — overrating Haskins and underrating two QBs, either of whom could have become central to its future.
Put all this together and you sense the weight of the Young pick — and the burden on the young player. He’s going to be the subject of constant debate — and at a position that offers meaningful metrics but not the kind of exhaustive stats we get in MLB, the NBA or at some other NFL positions.
Pro Football Focus says that Young’s raw stats don’t do full justice to a strong rookie year. CBS Sports notes that Young has the third-highest pressure-creation rate (8.9 percent) on Washington among those who’ve rushed the quarterback at least 100 times, though “he hasn’t exactly met the future Hall of Famer expectations.”
Since this is an emotional issue for Washington football fans, let’s start with those facts. Also, it’s a minor sore spot for me since I was with the multitude who said Washington should take Young, not Tagovailoa or Herbert. Having lots of company doesn’t change being wrong.
In 369 snaps, Young has 3.5 sacks, plus four hits, one knockdown, nine pressures and four QB hurries, as well as 5.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
In 373 snaps, Sweat tops Young in all categories — and often doubles his totals — with five sacks, plus 12 hits, five knockdowns, 17 pressures and four hurries of QBs, as well as nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Even Kerrigan, in his 10th year and with only 211 snaps, is close to Young’s production with 4.5 sacks, five hits, seven pressures and two QB hurries, as well as four tackles for losses and a recovered fumble.
Young simply must be better than this. His measurable skills at the NFL combine for strength, agility, speed and quickness are off the charts. His early-season injury (a strained groin) presumably has healed. NFL evaluators are not idiots — especially about edge rushers drafted No. 2 overall.
In the 40 drafts before Young, 10 rushers were taken at that No. 2 spot, including Von Miller, Julius Peppers, Neil Smith, Cornelius Bennett and Lawrence Taylor. They combined for 38 Pro Bowls and averaged 115 career sacks; all will end up in the Hall of Fame or get serious consideration.
The others are 2019 star rookie Nick Bosa (now hurt), Washington’s LaVar Arrington (three Pro Bowls), Chris Long (70 sacks), Kevin Hardy (one Pro Bowl) and just one “bust” — Quentin Coryatt.
Fun fact: Washington passed on Brian Urlacher to take Arrington with the No. 2 pick of the 2000 draft. Because Arrington was a linebacker at 257 pounds, almost as big as Young, he could roam and averaged 95 tackles a year in his brief prime. As a defensive end, Young has 22 tackles — tied for 12th on the team.
By switching to a 4-3 defense this year, Washington may have reduced Young’s chances to show LaVar-like versatility. Young is going to be judged on how often he sacks, knocks down, hits, pressures or hurries quarterbacks, plus the tackles-for-loses and fumbles he may cause. How often can he “get home” on the QB or cause havoc?
By that standard, what do you have to do to be great? Let’s assume that sacks, tackles for loss, fumbles caused or recovered and quarterback hits, although not exactly equal, are all “big plays.” The Rams’ Aaron Donald, the current gold standard for defensive linemen, has 419 of those four types of big plays in 103 career games. Or about four per game. Young has 13.5 such plays in seven full games, plus a bit of another — about two per game.
It is unlikely Young will play on many defensive lines with so many high draft picks or such depth. Young may never again see so few double teams. So what can be done?
Washington seldom uses stunts to let Young use his agility to loop around a defensive tackle and rush with speed up the gut. With a head of steam, he plays much “bigger” than he does coming out of a stance.
Also, while Young’s athleticism looks elite, his polish and trickery seems raw. All those D-line “moves” we’ve watched for years — the spins, the swims, the arm bars and arm-unders — seldom show up yet in Young’s game. He probably didn’t need them at Ohio State, but he can learn them.
What may eventually prove most enjoyable for D.C. is not that Young arrived as the finished product, but that a player with a local background, who is still only 21 years old, constantly got better. That is certainly his athletic pedigree coming out of DeMatha Catholic High. For generations, D.C.’s experience of Stag athletes is that they work, study and improve.
Chase Young just had a bad penalty at the end of a tough loss. He’ll always be compared to the rest of a draft class that may produce several star quarterbacks. Those pressures are never going to go away. But a few hard knocks, after years of praise, never hurt anybody.
My antennae sense that it gets better from here.