Chase Young leading the way in Washington's playoff push
Chase Young, the No 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is a leading contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year honours; Watch Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team, live on Sky Sports NFL from 6pm, Sunday
By Sonny Cohen
Last Updated: 20/12/20 8:00am
When you look to the Washington Football Team and their turnaround that has seen them surge from 2-7 to the top of the NFC East with four-straight wins, it centres around their defence - and specifically one man.
Chase Young has put together a hugely impressive rookie campaign. The No 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft looks to be the leading contender for the defensive rookie of the year title, amassing 35 total tackles, three forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks already this season.
But can his strong performances inspire Washington to the postseason as they look to take control of the East - starting with a visit from the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, live on Sky Sports NFL from 6pm.
High expectations from Ron Rivera
After being drafted by Washington, the Ohio State standout received some lofty praise from head coach Ron Rivera, who likened him to Von Miller and Julius Peppers, both of whom have amassed over 100 sacks in their respective careers.
It is easy to categorise the defensive end simply as a pass rusher but he is so much more than that. Young looks more like dominant defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but just lining up at the end of the line, than he does a Von Miller.
Young is just straight up destructive and impacts every level of the game. And those looking purely at Young's stats might be able to spot the resemblance to that of three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt, who finished his rookie year with 48 total tackles and five-and-a-half sacks.
Similarly, in his rookie year, Watt was able to inspire the Houston Texans to their first ever playoff appearance. Young is on course to see Washington into the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
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Big plays from the No 2 pick
Young's numbers to this point in the season are somewhat modest, but his highlight-reel plays are astounding. Against the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in the season, Young barrelled down the line of scrimmage and hit Joe Burrow at the goal line, forcing a fumble and stopping a would-be touchdown.
The 2019 unanimous All-American was at it again just two games later. This time he slipped an attempted block by Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron and, flying into the backfield, he was able to catch running back Benny Snell as he attempted to dive into the endzone on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line.
But Young reserved his best game in the NFL against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. He racked up six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
His biggest moment came when he scooped up a loose ball around midfield and outrun everyone to score his first career touchdown. The athleticism of the defensive end is truly amazing and it was on full show here.
Young's introduction has inspired change
When Washington added Young to a defensive line that already had former first-round draft picks Montez Sweat, Da'Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Ryan Kerrigan, it was clear that they were building something on the defensive side of the ball to complement their young offensive talents.
But it was hard to foresee the sort of turnaround that has come about: last season, Washington ranked 27th in passing defence and total defence. A far cry from where they stand currently this year.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has the unit playing at a much higher level. They now rank in the top 10 of every major defensive category, including fourth in total yards and third in passing yards allowed.
Placing Young on the opposite side to last year's 26th overall pick, Sweat has left offensive coordinators with a 'pick your poison' situation. They cannot slide their offensive line to both sides and so either Sweat or Young will end up in a one-on-one situation. With Young receiving the majority of the attention, it has helped elevate the play of his teammates. The two defensive ends lead the team in sacks, with Sweat racking up an impressive nine-and-a-half so far.
The improved presence up front has had a major impact in the secondary as well. Rookie Kamren Curl has received some attention recently and rightly so - he added a second defensive touchdown against the 49ers when he returned an interception 76 yards to the house.
Young has received several admirers this season, and it is clear to see why. The defensive end was the only major addition to the Washington defence in the offseason, with his introduction resulting in their sudden leap into the top 10 of those defensive categories.
If they do make the playoffs, then it will be because of their defensive improvement. It may not all be Young, but it is easy to see the impact he has had on the Washington Football Team.
Up next is a major test of their playoff credentials in the form of the number two ranked scoring offence of the Seattle Seahawks - live on Sky Sports NFL from 6pm, Sunday.
Russell Wilson and co will certainly push this impressive defence to its limits. But it provides Young, Sweat and Curl with the perfect opportunity to show that, should they make the playoffs, they will be a handful for any opponent.