Ohio State defensive end Chase Young will return to action this Saturday as the no. 2 Buckeyes host no. 8 Penn State, and the game-wrecking edge rusher is set to take center stage after serving a two-game suspension stemming from an NCAA rules violation. The well-rested Nagurski Trophy candidate not only brings the pass-rushing juice that could help Ohio State improve to 11-0, he also has a chance to further cement his status as the best nonquarterback in the talent-packed 2020 NFL draft class. With Tua Tagovailoa’s future in turmoil after a devastating season-ending hip injury, Young is now a close second to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow as the odds-on favorite to be the top pick of the upcoming draft. So just how special is the Ohio State star, and does he have the skill set to go no. 1 come April?
Young is an athletic marvel with a prototypical frame for the edge rusher position. The Buckeyes defender is 6-foot-5 and, as former teammate and current 49er Nick Bosa recently put it, “270 pounds with a six-pack.” (He’s listed at 265, but you get the point.) Young boasts a thick, muscular lower half and long, powerful arms―a rare combination of mass, length, and athleticism that helps make him one of the most versatile defenders in college football. He’s a movable chess piece capable of playing all over the line, setting the edge with authority against the run on one play and then rag-dolling opposing tackles to get to the quarterback on the next. He’s even adaptable enough to line up as a stand-up end and drop back into coverage, as the Buckeyes asked him to do at times against Wisconsin back on October 26―a schematic package the team drew up to throw the Badgers offense for a loop.
Of course, his ability to go backward isn’t what will get Young drafted inside the top three picks of the 2020 draft—it’s his ability to get after the passer. Young’s get-off at the snap is the first thing that jumps off the tape: Whether he’s rushing from a two- or a three-point stance, the Buckeyes edge rusher uncoils upfield to explode through blocks with the speed of a drag racer. That elite first step has left his coaches at Ohio State in awe: It’s “ridiculous,” co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley recently put it. “His get-off, his speed, it’s unbelievable. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.” Head coach Ryan Day apparently concurs, noting after Young’s massive four-sack outing against the Badgers that the junior pass rusher’s first step is “the best I’ve been around.” Coaches often talk up their players, sure, but that’s still pretty lofty praise considering how recently Day coached Bosa.
Young’s explosive get-off is the foundation for a full repertoire of pass-rush moves. It allows him to get a step on opposing tackles, where he can quickly gain an advantage to the edge before bending into the pocket to affect the quarterback.
Garnering a well-earned respect for his outside speed, Young has developed a nice complement of inside countermoves, frequently setting up opponents with jabs to the edge before bursting back inside and past the offensive line.
Young has shown off a burgeoning hump move, bursting upfield before striking into the opposing tackle’s chest with his inside arm, lifting him up, and pushing him upfield so he can cut inside.
As you can see in that clip, Young’s explosive get-off can be a source of great power: A quick first step forces opposing tackles to cheat a bit to the outside in the hopes of eliminating Young’s path to the quarterback—if they do, Young can simply alter course and drive his way right through them. That get-off, along with the countermoves he can build off of it, is also crucial in Young’s ability to defeat chip blocks and double-teams with ease.
Of course, when he isn’t converting speed to power to defeat blocks, he can simply use … his power. Young generates an incredible amount of torque with his upper body, and if he gets his hands on an opposing tackle he has the strength to simply push or rip him out of his way.
More than just his pure physical talent, though, Young’s proficiency as a hand fighter sets him apart in this upcoming draft class. He uses his heavy hands to grapple with opposing linemen and set the edge or bull-rush into the pocket, but he also knows how to chop away opponents who try to latch on to him at the snap. Under the tutelage of Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, Young’s developed the side scissors, the double scissors, and the inside side scissors as techniques to cut down opponents’ hands and get them lunging so he can slide right into the pocket. It’s a beautiful thing to watch; rarely will you see him locked into a stalemate with an opponent.
Young’s tape paints the picture of a potential top pick, and his stats support the eye test. Over the past two seasons, he has posted elite numbers, racking up a combined 24.0 sacks, 30.0 tackles for a loss, six pass deflections, and six forced fumbles in 21 games. As a true sophomore last year (filling in for Bosa, who played just three games), Young led all of college football with 75 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus, the first time in PFF’s tracking that a true sophomore had accomplished that feat. This season, Young’s 32.4 percent pass-rush win rate is on pace to establish a new record (PFF has never tracked a qualifying defensive lineman above 30 percent for a full season). With 13.5 sacks in 2019, he ranks second in the country and is just one away from setting the single-season Buckeyes record; when he gets that sack (because he almost certainly will), he’ll move into sole possession of second place on the Buckeyes’ career sacks list (he currently has 27.5; Mike Vrabel leads that list with 36.0). Young has done all that with shocking efficiency, notching those numbers on just 261 snaps.
It may come down to which team ends up with the draft’s top pick, but it won’t be a huge surprise if Young ends up leap-frogging Burrow, Tagovailoa, or any other late surprise draft risers to join the likes of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney as pass rushers taken with the no. 1 pick. It’s still very early in the predraft process, of course, but there’s little doubt that Young has all the attributes teams look for in a franchise-altering player: He’s a rare athlete, has posted extraordinary numbers, boasts a developing repertoire of fundamental techniques, and by all accounts, has a strong work ethic and desire to improve his game. With the versatility to play multiple roles in just about any defense, Young is already as close to the complete package as a prospect as you can get―and at 20 years old, he’s just getting started.