After getting three sacks during reserve duty in his rookie season and a 2012 preseason in which he was an absolute beast – recording a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery an interception and even blocking a punt – many thought the Lions had finally found a late round gem in defensive end Willie Young. Instead, Young finished the 2013 season with a mere 11 tackles and no sacks.
Were expectations too high for the former seventh round pick? Perhaps, but with the departure of former starters Vanden Bosch and Avril and a renewed one-year contract, Young will certainly get a fair shot to leave his mark. What should Lions fans expect from this seemingly talented player? Let’s take a closer look at what he is and isn’t for the answer:
Strengths: Has ideal height with excellent length. Possesses a nice combination of quickness, lateral agility and body control for a high-cut player. Has a quick first step, does a good job of gaining initial leverage on OL and can convert speed to power. Natural bender with a strong upper body who flashes the ability to set the edge. Showcases nice range in pursuit. Gives good effort on every snap.
Weaknesses: Lean frame. Has poor snap anticipation skills and lacks natural instincts; is often a beat late diagnosing plays. Needs to continue to develop his pass rush arsenal. Does not possess the quick-twitch explosiveness off the ball of the top DE’s in the game. Lacks ideal power in his lower half and struggles anchoring when he’s run at. Needs to separate more quickly vs. run blocks and doesn’t make as many plays in pursuit as a player with his speed and range should.
Summary: Coming off his third season, Young has not yet proven he has the ability to step in and start. On film, he lacks consistency in several areas of his game or the ability to be an impact player. Though he clearly possesses the athletic tools to make plays, Young struggles with the mental side of his game. He appears hesitant off the ball at times and as such, struggles consistently beating the OT off the edge. And while he utilizes his length well to gain initial leverage, he hasn’t shown the hand technique to consistently side-step blocks and work his way upfield. Though he may physically never possesses the power in his lower half to hold his ground at the POA vs. downhill run blocks at him, you expect a player with his range to make more plays in backside pursuit. Overall, he has not shown starter ability and his development needs to take a huge step forward in 2013.
One thing that will likely contribute to better production will be his movement from the left side to the right side. Young simply doesn’t have the necessary bulk to hold up vs. the run and his skill set is much better suited to playing on the right side. If he can improve his technique, his ceiling is probably that of a productive situational pass rusher – five to seven sacks, which would go a long way toward helping the Lions improve their pass rush and could certainly be considered a victory for the scouting staff.