Meet the Cubs: Willie Young Scouting Report

>> 4.29.2010

7.6, 213: Willie Young, N.C. State DE

Willie Young is the most intriguing pick of the Lions' 2010 draft class.  At 6’-5”, 251 pounds, Young is the only selection with no obvious niche in the roster cut out for him.  Every defensive end brought in by the New Lions has been around 270 pounds; then again the New Lions have never drafted a defensive end.  As you can see, Young’s very lean.  With that frame, he should be able to get much bigger—but adding 20 pounds of lean muscle?  When he’s already 24 years old?
It’s confusing.  Young seems to be cursed with Cliff Avril’s build; why add another project who’ll need years to build both body and technique in order to contribute?  In a word, BATFAN.
Young came out of Palm Beach Gardens, FL, with some academic problems--but that didn't keep Florida, Georgia, and Ohio State from offering him a scholarship anyway.  He chose N.C. State over all of them, though, even staying committed after his recruiter there, Doc Holliday left for Florida($).  Presumably, the way that N.C. State developed DEs like Mario Williams and Manny Lawson was a big draw.
Manny Young was's #34 overall defensive end; a high three-star recruit.  Rivals had him ranked even higher; Young was Rivals’ #14 weakside DE and a low four-star.  The “book” on him was the same everywhere: great speed, tremendous first steps, extremely long legs and arms, not really so much size, weight, bulk, strength, or run-stopping ability.  But blazing edge speed, and a knack for getting to the quarterback?  Check, and check.
After prepping a year at Hargrove Military Academy, he redshirted in 2005, finally getting back on the field in 2006.  He wasted no time making an impact, playing in every game and starting the final four.  He didn’t have any sacks, but according to the N.C. State website Young had 15 QB pressures, more than double anyone else on the team.  He also had one INT, which he returned 34 yards for a touchdown.
In 2007, he started 8 of 12 games, notching 5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and had 24 QB pressures.  That pressures tally was the second-best ever for an N.C. State sophomore, and even one higher than Mario Williams’ sophomore mark.  He also broke up six passes, third-best on the team (!). He started full-time in 2008, leading the team in TFLs (12.5) and sacks (6.5).  He also added an INT, and 26 QB pressures, to his increasingly-impressive career stats.
In 2009, the expectations were really on him: Phil Steele and Athlon Sports named him to their preseason second-team All-ACC squads.  He delivered, notching 54 tackles, 14 TFLs, 8 sacks, and another INT—earning him actual second-team All-ACC honors.  His 20 1/2 career sacks put him sixth in school history, and his 45 TFLs are second only to Mario Himself.  Here’s a article about Young ($) with some good quotes from his opponents, including C.J. Spiller, Christian Ponder, and Maryland QB Chris Turner:

Every week when you go in the film room there are certain guys you have to game plan for, and he's one of those guys. Whether you double-team him or just try to contain him with one guy, you have to know where he is.
Unfortunately, his very lean build and his lack of strength almost certainly doom him to a situational role in the NFL. grades Young as a 2.27, a top practice-squad type.  They, however, are the most pessimistic I’ve found.  Sideline Scouting grades Willie Young as a 5th rounder, New Era Scouting had Young as the #160th overall prospect, and Scardraft had Young going in the 4th to New England as a 3-4 OLB.  However, there’s a common, disturbing, thread I’m following.
Considered a "me" sort of player . . . will be a bargain if he decided to play within the team concept and dedicate himself.
Sideline Scouting:
Has been benched for inconsistent effort.
. . . and then, the ever-excellent NFL Draft Scout gives us hope:
Intangibles: An admitted free spirit who reportedly struggled initially adjusting to the coaching staff's old-school mentality, he was benched last season due to inconsistent effort and undisciplined play.  Improved as the season went on and represented NC State at ACC Media Day.
You know what it's time for: YouTube highlight reels! Here's the aforementioned Media Day appearance:
Oddly, almost all of the rest of the videos I can find on him are postgame interviews . . . I guess people knew where to go for a quote.
Here, though, is the clip of all of Young's combine performances; especially note the crazy jumps, and the stiffness/slipping in the change-of-direction drill.  Finally, here's some actual footage of him playing football--unfortunately, it’s from his days at the military academy, and the film looks like it was shot with authentic 1960's satellite spy camera technology.
So where does Willie Young fit in with the Lions? Some have suggested that Young is Gunther Cunningham's Secret Outside Linebacker, but according to John Niyo and Tim Twentyman of the Detroit news, Young immediately shot that down:
"I will be playing defensive end with my hand down," said Young, who also said he could easily gain 10 pounds and not lose any speed or agility.
Even so, Willie has a long way to go before he'll be able to play DE in the Schwartz/Cunningham system.  Cliff Avril has taken this long to get his body to the point where the Lions are happy with it, and Young might never get there.  Even so, he just represented too much value at the top of the seventh round to deny. 
I mean, Willie Young was a player that, when we drafted, was a lot higher on the board and really didn't go into the draft anticipating taking a defensive end, but he was there and it made sense at that point. He was sort of too good a player at that point to pass up. He brings some really good pass rush to the table.
That pretty much says it all.  Best available player that fits a need: developmental defensive end.  Interestingly, though, that quote proves that the Lions truly are satisfied with Cliff Avril’s development.  Neither Jared DeVries nor Jason Hunter represent excellent long-term solutions, so if they weren’t looking to draft a DE this year, Avril’s spot must be secure. That having been said, welcome to the roster, Willie Young.
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