About nine months ago I woke up on a cold Florida morning -- it was like 40-something degrees and that's cold for Florida -- to begin one of my favorite weeks of the year. It was a week where most of the NFL world would descend upon my backyard, the town of St. Petersburg, FL. Some of the big-name coaches, general managers, scouts, trainers, and media members from around the NFL all gathered at a few local high schools to see a handful of the best upperclassmen college football had to offer showcase their skills as they prepared for the NFL Draft.
I'm talking about Shrine Week.
Shrine Week festivities are one of the first All-Star game-type deals where seniors are invited to put on the pads one last time to impress those who might be making draft day decisions in a few months. This past 2018 Shrine Week was a good one. I saw prospects like Avonte Maddox, Deadrin Senat, DaeSean Hamilton and P.J. Hall standout enough to boost their stocks significantly, and they were rewarded for it on draft day. But there was another Shrine Game alum who I noticed each day of the 2018 Shrine Week that my fandom for continued to grow the more I watched. He wasn't talked about as much as those other guys, but when his name was announced in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, I said to myself, "they got a good one."
The player I'm talking about is linebacker Kenny Young.
Young, a four-year contributor for the Bruins, played for a West roster at the Shrine Game that brough a lot of intensity, as a group, on defense. That unit had some of the highest energy I've seen from an all-star group, and Young was very much a staple of that. He was flying around with great athleticism all week, stopping the run and giving quarterbacks fits in coverage with how fast he could move to a spot. He was an athletic centerpiece for that group's defense during practices.
Two weeks into his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens and Young is still popping like he did when he had a Shrine Game jersey on. In his first game against the Bills, Young recorded a sack and was tied with the team lead in tackles. In his second game, he had seven total tackles and one tackle for loss.
Young has been a ball-stopper and has found himself in the back field now in back-to-back weeks. With C.J. Mosley's status uncertain after leaving the Bengals game with an injury, Young is now set to play and even bigger role for the Ravens' defense.
They're lucky they drafted him, and if you're not a Ravens fan, your team really should have.
It seemed like everyone I talked to that really sat down and watched Kenny Young, both at UCLA and at the Shrine Game practices, liked what they saw. They saw the high-end athleticism and the ability to diagnose where the ball was going, but ultimately a lot of teams passed on him, as Young slipped to Day 3 of the draft before seeing his name called.
Young was picked behind guys like Jerome Baker, Malik Jefferson and Josey Jewel. At the combine, Young wasn't as fast as Baker or Jefferson, who ran low 4.5's in the 40-yard dash while Young ran a 4.6-flat, and was't as quick as Jewel, who tested in the 90th percentile while Young tested in the 10th percentile.
But Young was better, and he had the tape to prove it.
Young is now putting that on display with the Ravens as a starter early on his his career. In the preseason, Young showed flashes of good instinct to shoot through gaps, anticipate snap counts and could cover running backs coming out of the backfield. In his most recent regular season game against Bengals game, Young did a lot of things well, always ending a play near the ball, flying in coverage and in pursuit and trying to get his body in there to stop the run.
There are things Young needs to improve on, such as over pursuit on some ball carriers, strength and technique to get off blocks, and an overall recognition of where a hole is going to be so he can see it and shoot and actually make the tackle to stop it dead in its tracks. But all of that can come with experience. As for the flashes of recognition and athleticism he's shown as just a rookie? That's what made him valuable, to me, during Shrine Week, and why your team should have drafted him.
With fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley suffering a knee bone bruise against the Bengals, Young will be getting plenty of experience in his place -- as if he wasn't already. He'll certainly have that learning curve in a competitive AFC North division, but Young is already proving early on in his Ravens career that the NFL should have paid better attention, and that Young should have been drafted higher than he was.