Meet the Cubs: Willie Young Scouting Report

>> 4.29.2010

7.6, 213: Willie Young, N.C. State DE
Detroit Lions 7th round pick, N.C. State DE Willie Young
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.


Meet The Cubs: Tim Toone

>> 4.26.2010

Tim Toone7.48, 255: Timothy Toone, Weber State WR
About seven seconds into my research on Toone, I knew what we were in for.  That catchy, alliterative name, plus a phonically germane nickname: “Tarzan.” Those incredible, flowing, straw-colored dreadlocks.  His tiny FCS Utah school.  His blazing speed, his special-teams prowess, and his legendary work ethic.  Of course, his coveted “Mister Irrelevant” status as the final pick in the 2010 draft.  All the elements are there, all the pieces are in place.  Tim Toone is a mortal lock to be this year’s marquee inductee into the Lions Fan Hall of Fame.  Immediately, my words from last year about Zack Follett came rushing back to me:

Zach Follett is going to be the next inductee into the Lions Fan Hall of Fame. Players like David Kircus, Scotty Anderson, Casey Fitzsimmons, David "Blue" Adams, Greg Blue, and Buster Davis have been drafted late (or signed as a UFA) by the Lions, made a big play or two in training camp or preseason, and become cult heroes--often, with fans insisting that these practice squadders and/or bench riders would be immediate upgrades over the current starters, if only they were given the opportunity. Zack Follett perfectly fits this profile; I have no doubt we'll be seeing Follett jerseys in the stands sooner rather than later.

The only way he could be any more perfectly qualified would be to have played at GVSU, or come up through the Detroit Public Schools system.  Unfortunately, Toone hails from from Peoria, Arizona—where, despite being first-team All-State as a senior, he was unknown to, and an unranked one-star recruit at  His senior year, he caught 37 balls for 1,125 yards, setting an all-time state record for YpC with 30.4.  Thirty.  Point.  Four.  Yards.  Per.  Catch.  I love me some high school statistics.

Timonthy “Tarzan” Toone redshirted (and paid his own way) his first year at Weber State, then served his two-year Mormon mission in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.  NFL Draft Blitz asked Toone about that mission, in one of the most desperate and war-torn regions on Earth:

It was difficult, but it helped me grow up. It made me more responsible. I had life goals after I came back from the mission. I knew how to work hard towards those goals.

Work hard he did, immediately making an impact as a deep threat.  He had seven catches for 275 yards (39.3 YpC).  Nine games in, he took over as punt returner, and in his first game he took a punt back 61 yards to the house. 

As a redshirt sophomore, he was the team’s second-leading receiver, with 32 catches for 698 yards (21.81 YpC) and 10 TDs, tying the school’s single-season receiving TD record.  Toone was named Honorable Mention All-Big Sky conference that year, but it was only a hint of what was to come.  Over the next two seasons, Toole became the Wildcats' primary offensive threat: over the next two seasons, he averaged 83.5 catches, 1,314.5 yards, and 8.5 TDs--and was first-team All-Big Sky Conference in both seasons.

How does all that small-school success translate to the big time?  Sports Illustrated grades Toone as a 2.05, a practice-squadder.  Most of the information I can find agrees: at Weber State, Toone’s calling card was his blazing speed, but that speed is merely adequate at the next level.  However, his technique, his willingness to go across the middle, his hands in traffic, routes, body control, they all grade very well.  His lack of typical deep-threat size (5’-11”, 170 pounds) means that though he put up outlandish, ridiculous YpC numbers in college, he projects to the NFL as a sneaky, second-level possession receiver—one who’s very dangerous after the catch.

As for character . . . well, Toone grades highest of all in that category.  Here’s a great ESPN TV interview of Toone, where they closed it out by asking how he’d apply the lessons learned in west Africa to his life in the NFL:

It's for Detroit, the team is for Detroit. To try to help them out, and do everything I can to make that city proud, and happy to be a Detroit Lions fan.

It’s not just his off-the-field exploits that show great character and work ethic.  Here’s a little piece from the Deseret News, telling how Toone punished himself for loafing after an eight-catch, 135 yard, 2 TD performance that won his team the game:

I just was not playing like I usually do, so I had to go in there [the up-down circle].  I felt like I didn't block and do all that I needed to do, all the little things that count. Maybe if I would have blocked a little more, some big plays would have sprung and we wouldn't have been in that situation [to need a last-minute touchdown].


Well, enough of that nonsense; let’s get to what really matters; the only true oracle of NFL success: YouTube highlight reels!

Subjectively, it’s hard not to love the hell out of this kid.  Like I said, all the indicators, all the effort, all the character in the world.  Looking at these clips, he’s obviously in a class by himself on this field, but his speed is far from breathtaking.  However, his hands, routes, football sense, and open-field ability will certainly give him the inside track on impressing the coaches over, say Derrick Williams.

In fact, that's how I’d say Toone projects: as Derrick Williams’ replacement, if Williams doesn’t get his head screwed on straight.  Sap away a little bit of Williams’ speed, and add all the common sense, sticky hands, and work ethic that he lacks, and it’s hard to see how the resultant player wouldn’t be Toone.

I'm not guaranteeing a roster spot for Toone, but I’ve said several times that neither Bryant Johnson, nor Dennis Northcutt, nor Derrick Williams appears to have any great future here as a Lion; any of them could be cut tomorrow and I wouldn’t be that surprised.  A kid who’s put service, hard work, and team success above all else—including his own career?  You absolutely want to see him succeed, and I think he’s got an excellent chance here.


Old Mother Hubbard: 2010 NFL Draft Recap

Let's review the Lions' 2010 NFL draft shopping list:

  • A developmental quarterback who could push Stanton in camp.
  • A starting, three-down power runningback with speed.
  • A developmental power-blocking fullback, to complement Jerome Felton.
  • A left tackle, who could be groomed to replace Jeff Backus.
  • A power-blocking center, to be groomed behind Raiola.
  • A starting, disruptive pass-rushing DT to rotate w/Williams & Hill.
  • A starting, three-down, two-way defensive end, a la Kyle Vanden Bosch.
  • A developmental middle linebacker.
  • A starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker, a la Julian Peterson.
  • At least one starting cornerback.
  • A starting safety, who’s very strong in pass coverage.

I'll be reprising last year's Meet the Cubs series, so I won't go into depth on each pick just yet--but look at the way the Lions addressed those needs. In fact, I'd say they may have strayed from their "BATFAN" strategy. Of course, Suh was the consensus #1 overall prospect, and fit a need, so he was unquestionably the Best Available That Fits A Need. However, the move back up to get Best was an attempt to get a specific player to fill a specific need.

Given the undeniably special talent Best possesses, and the perfect fit he represents, it was a good move--but it wasn't just taking BATFAN when their pick came up. It's worth noting that I was wrong about the Lions and Best; it sounds like he was their target all along, as Killer had said. Rather than a power back with speed, they now have a home-run-hitting speed back, who's strong enough to hold up for three downs.

After the trade up for Best, the Lions stood pat throughout the second round, and into the third, finally taking Amari Spievey when their next pick came around. Spievey, arguably, wasn't the even consensus best corner on the board at that point. Again, I have no knowledge of the Lions' prospect grades, nor do I know what their assessment of their own cornerbacks. But in my eyes, it's undeniable: the Lions reached to fill a need, because the need was great, and later picks wouldn't fill it.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Am I wrong, and the Lions took the top player left on their board? Am I wrong, and the Lions don't see corner as an extreme need? Or, are the Lions beginning to see their roster one that has a few "holes" that must be "filled" instead of a lifeless vaccuum, desperate for any talent that can be found?

It could be any of those reasons--or all, or some, or none of those reasons. I wouldn't be the first to compare the Spievey pick to last year's controversial third-round choice, DeAndre Levy. Of course, Levy didn't take long to endear himself to the Lions' coaches and fans. But on the day he was drafted he still appeared to be a reach for a great need; I can only hope Spievey turns out as well as Levy.

The remaining picks appear to stick to the BATFAN philosophy-and in fact, did a very good job of getting intriguing prospects in the fourth and seventh rounds. When you add in the UDFA signing of FB Matt Clapp, the Lions came very close to snagging the entire shopping list--when I'd said it wouldn't be possible. Here's what's left:

  • A developmental quarterback who could push Stanton in camp.
  • A power-blocking center, to be groomed behind Raiola.
  • A starting, three-down, two-way defensive end, a la Kyle Vanden Bosch.
  • A developmental middle linebacker.
  • A starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker, a la Julian Peterson.
  • A starting safety, who’s very strong in pass coverage.

There's a little more information yet to consider: at one point, during the second day, Tom Kowalski reported via Twitter that there was a rumor that Cliff Avril had been traded to Miami for a fifth-round pick. Killer then called the Lions to confirm, and the Lions told Killer that:

After a few phone calls -- and a lot of stern denials -- it was clear the Lions were not trading Avril. In fact, the Lions actually are very happy with Avril's approach to the offseason. He showed up with an extra 10 pounds of muscle and has been working very hard during the offseason workouts. Avril, who has a better relationship with new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek than he did with the recently retired Bob Karmelowicz, has turned up his intensity.

Well, if that's all true, we can optimistically pencil in Avril as the starting left end. And, while we're at it, we can assume the Lions aren't interested in pushing Stanton, either--they didn't even sign a UDFA quarterback as a camp arm. Therefore, the remaining list looks like this:

  • A power-blocking center, to be groomed behind Raiola.
  • A developmental middle linebacker.
  • A starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker, a la Julian Peterson.
  • A starting safety, who’s very strong in pass coverage.

So, the Lions are only an outside linebacker and a free safety away from having a playoff-caliber starting lineup? Well, no. We're presuming that all of these free agent signees and drafted-to-start rookies actually step in and play at a high level, which never happens. My personal rule of thumb is that when a team acquires a player to step in and start, it works out about 50% of the time. So, take Suh, Best, Spievey, Scheffler, Sims, Houston, Burleson, Vanden Bosch, and Williams, and flip a coin for each. Anyone who comes up "tails", assume their role will be on next year's shopping list.

Have I depressed you? Sorry; I didn't mean to--and you shouldn't be depressed, anyway. The amount of talent the Lions have added in this offseason is impressive--and when you consider just how far the roster has come since I stared this blog, the day Mayhew and Lewand took over, it's nothing short of astonishing. Of course, it's all on paper until we see it on the field, but this draft did nothing to shake my faith that this time, things really will be different.


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