The list of first-game performances like Chase Young is a fairly short one.
Only five players in NFL history grabbed more than one sack in Week 1 of their rookie season; among active players, only T.J. Watt shares that honor with Young, who had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his debut performance against the Eagles on Sunday. On a day in which the Football Team totaled a stunning eight sacks and five players, including Young, grabbed at least four pressures, the grand opening of Young’s pro career seems to be falling underacknowledged.
There’s an implied compliment in that muted reaction, however. Young had a stunning performance, and nobody’s amped because nobody expected otherwise. Even along the Washington sideline and the tremendous defensive line group they’ve constructed, Young was evidently a unique athlete—you wouldn’t have to tell an onlooker which guy was the first overall pick. They’d just know. Meanwhile, as a rusher, while he didn’t hit anything particularly sexy, he delivered in different responsibilities to fill the stat sheet with quality team plays.
His sack is a great example. Young didn’t throw a stunning speed-to-power or a silky side-scissors; he didn’t race Jason Peters off the snap and duck under his punch for a racecar sack. He got chipped by running back Corey Clement, as the Eagles looked to give him additional attention, and he used that chip to spin inside Jason Peters and crash through the B-gap. Then, with one of the better sack-escapers in Carson Wentz in his clutches, Young not only hung on, but had the wherewithal to find the football and punch it out for a potential big play.
Everything about this play screams veteran. From using the chip to create the rush and finding the ball once the quarterback is secured, rookies don’t make plays with this much detail. Young did, and he continued to do much of the same for the rest of the game. He established control over the less agile and powerful Peters to get involved in a contain/cleanup role to score his half-sack, emphasizing that he understands that not every rep is about winning the pass-rush—sometimes it’s about cleaning up the pass-rush of a teammate.
He grabbed a tackle near the line of scrimmage by recognizing a poorly-timed double-team from Peters and tight end Zach Ertz, narrowing his surface area and wrenching Peters out of the trenches to present in the backfield. The mental processing, technique, and power here are all mature beyond his experience.
He identified the screen on a third-and-forever—a common screen down—when the play was designed to expose a rookie EDGE likely to have his ears pinned back, hunting more NFL splash plays. The Eagles’ screen game got nowhere against Washington as a whole, but if Young had barreled after Wentz on this play, this screen could have actually busted into a big gain. Young squeezed the play into the sideline, and it went nowhere.
Young was immediately impactful, reliable, and critically, mistake-free. He played on a great line against a bad offensive line and made the most of it. But using the dominance of the Washington pass-rush overall to explain the dominance of Young isn’t fair to the young man, who has demonstrated a degree of pro-readiness rarely seen in other early-drafted prospects. Young may not grab 1.5 sacks a game, but he’ll continue to dominate snaps if he isn’t making rookie errors, and that will present opportunity.
So it’s business as usual for the best defensive prospect to come out in the last couple of years. Call me when he breaks the rookie sack record.
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