This article marks an installation in the series highlighting the changing of the guard in Rebel football. I will be taking to the film in order to watch, breakdown and evaluate notable Ole Miss athletes who have either declared for the draft or are transferring into the program.
Listed H/W/P: 5’10”, 210lbs, Safety
Pro Comparison: Budda Baker
In a nutshell: An undersized safety, Young plays with a violent mindset, delivering hits with little regard for his own body. Playing primarily as an off-ball safety, Young’s skillset may best fit a move to nickelback, where he can keep his aggressive playstyle without fear of being beat deep.
Young plays like a linebacker with anger issues. He takes joy in delivering bone-crushing hits on receivers, tight ends, running backs or anyone wearing the other team’s jersey. If you put a Mississippi State helmet on a train, Young would derail it. Last year, Mark Robinson played the “Thumper” role on defense, but with his draft declaration, the Rebels will be missing an enforcer on defense. I fully expect Young to take over this role, despite this being just his first year with the program.
Ole Miss will be adding a fearless tackler to their defense next season, which will make receivers think twice when jumping for high balls over the middle. Young also has a violent streak when engaging blockers away from the play. There are multiple occasions on his film where the play is virtually over, but Young is getting feisty with a receiver. He got Tay Martin (who will be on an NFL roster next year) especially good with a Judo-like toss that sent both players down in a flurry of limbs. Overall, this is the kind of stuff you love to see from your secondary. Receivers like to keep their jerseys clean and accessories in picture-perfect shape, so anyone who gets in the way of that is an asset to the defense.
Young is at his best playing downhill. At Iowa State, he was typically 10-12 yards off the ball, lined up over the tight end (a very typical alignment for a safety), but was able to get involved on almost every single run play. Overall, Young showed he was a terrific tackler at Iowa State. When faced with ball carriers head on, he hits violently and accurately, but has a tendency to hit with just his shoulder as opposed to following through with his arms and wrapping up. When he does wrap up, Young keeps himself in contact with the ball carrier, even if initial contact does not take him down. This allows him to either wrestle the offensive player down or just slow him down until other defenders can rally to the ball and secure the tackle.
Although he did not miss many tackles in 2021, wrapping up is something I would love to see him do, especially against SEC backs who tend to be bigger, faster and harder to bring down. However, when approaching a ball carrier from the side, he did a great job of wrapping up, finding cloth and bringing the player to the ground. Young also takes terrific angles in the run game. When it’s an inside run, he is able to pick the right gap and fill it with speed and power, while also doing a great job of chasing down outside runs by getting a good angle on the runner’s hip without overpursuing and allowing a cutback. He moves from his alignment to the ball with great efficiency and usually finishes strong by making a tackle or throwing himself onto the pile.
I think that a move from safety to nickelback could be a good idea for the Rebels. Young is a twitchy and explosive athlete who plays great in traffic and loves contact. In coverage, he has the speed to stick with most receivers, but his aggressive playstyle leads him to jump routes. While this can pay off, when you are the last line of defense it is a very risky move that can result in chunk plays for the offense. If moved to nickel, Young would still be able to make his presence felt in the box and jump the shorter routes run by offenses, but without having to worry about being beat deep. Additionally, the departure of Keidron Smith (pending a destination), mixed with the addition of LaDarius Tennison means that cornerback is currently the thinner position, and Young playing inside would free up another body to work the outside.
I briefly mentioned this earlier, but the biggest thing I would have Young work on is being a smarter tackler. There are times he goes in to lay a crushing hit on someone, they move just a little bit and it turns into a glancing blow and extra yardage. When he is in a closed space (filling a gap, for example) and the back has nowhere to go, he hits strong and hard, but I would like to see him emphasize wrapping up when in the open field. Once again, he has shown that he can do this. It’s just a matter of making the decision in game to shoot the hands and grab some cloth.
In terms of his coverage, Young can get excited and bite on double moves, get drawn up on play action or get out-bodied by larger frame X receivers. Generally, he is a solid coverage player, but these are all issues that top tier programs like Alabama and Georgia will look to expose. I am going to double down on my earlier take — he should move to nickel. A lot of the flaws in coverage I just mentioned would get at least partially covered up. He would be matched up mostly with slot receivers and no longer be put in the positions to defend a 6’3 receiver on a jump ball. He would also be punished less for trying to jump routes and rewarded more. Most three-step route combos are almost entirely based on QB/WR timing, meaning that there is little processing done before the throw, and if Young can recognize the pattern, he could put himself in a great position to make a play on the ball.
As a deep safety, he was entirely removed from these plays and unable to capitalize on his explosive athleticism was. This is partially my personal preference, as I tend to like safeties to play a little more reserved, hence why I love guys like Jessie Bates, while I prefer nickels to be on the feistier side. I see Young with more upside playing closer to the line of scrimmage as his athletic profile should make him a very strong blitzer, something he would do a lot of if Ole Miss keeps the same defensive scheme.