Around this time last year, months before being taken with the No. 2 overall pick, Chase Young started telling people that he was going to win 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Nick Bosa, his former teammate at Ohio State, had just won the award with the San Francisco 49ers, and now it was up to Young to follow suit.
Regarded as the best edge defender prospect in recent memory, Young entered his first NFL season as the favorite to take home the honor. And while his statistical production did not tell the whole story of his impact early on, he ended up being the game-changer the Washington Football Team and everyone else around the league expected.
His Pro Bowl campaign included 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles -- both of which led all rookies -- to go along with 44 total tackles (32 solo), 12 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, four passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and a touchdown. He was a menace to opposing offenses, a captain to his teammates and one of the faces of a franchise coming off its first division title since 2015.
Washington's players and coaches have spent this past season raving about Young, who accomplished his yearlong goal when he was named Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year at NFL Honors on Saturday night. He is the first player in franchise history to earn this award, just like he was the first rookie in franchise history to ever win player of the month.
"It means a lot," Young told Senior Vice President of Media & Content Julie Donaldson about winning the award. "Manifesting everything I wanted to do, it feels good, and it just gives me more motivation to keep going and keep working."
Opponents were just as impressed with the rookie phenom, often highlighting his freakish athleticism, unwavering work ethic and limitless potential. Relive Young's 2020 campaign through the lens of those tasked with containing him.
An unprecedented offseason and training camp injury tried to slow Young down, but by the time Week 1 rolled around, the 6-foot-5 edge rusher was ready to go. He was yet another first-round defensive lineman the Philadelphia Eagles had to account for.
Eagles HC Doug Pederson: "Chase, we just kind of have to go off what he did in college and study his college tape to get a feel for him as a pass rusher, as a defensive end, an edge setter and go play. And then make those adjustments as we go. You're not sure if he's going to be on our right or our left but at the same time, we have to go play and execute and do our jobs and stay within our rules and all of that, and do the best we can against that. And like I said, in-game adjustments are going to be important in games like this."
The Eagles quickly learned what they will be up against for years to come. Young recorded a strip sack on his second-career defensive possession, then teamed up with Daron Payne to bring down quarterback Carson Wentz in the fourth quarter. Wentz fumbled on the play and Washington recovered, all but sealing the 27-17 victory.
Young led a Washington defense that tallied eight sacks against the Eagles, tied for the most in franchise history for a season opener. Next up was a road matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, who were not taking the challenge lightly.
Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury: "When you turn on that tape, it definitely gives you anxiety watching them harass Carson Wentz] and the job they did. ...There’s some freak athletes in there with Chase [Young] and **[Montez [Sweat]and[Ryan] Kerrigan**, just their motor and his relentless style of play is contagious. They just wreak havoc really the entire game when you watch that. They get in your face. They can chase and run. It's just a fantastic group that plays really hard."
QB Kyler Murray: "[Young]'s a talented player, a young guy with a lot of juice, a lot of energy, specimen, freak of nature, all those things. We're gonna have to obviously block him, do a good job on offense and execute. That's what it comes down to on Sundays, is executing."
The top photos from Chase Young's rookie season in Washington.
Washington did not get the win, but Young continued to impress with four solo tackles, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and another sack. He was tied for the NFL lead with 2.5 sacks through two weeks -- a statistic that got the attention of seemingly everyone on the Cleveland Browns.
Browns HC Kevin Stefanski: "He's played on both sides, he's gotten home, he's applied pressure even when he doesn't get home and he makes plays in the run game. He makes effort plays. He makes plays just off of size, strength, power and quickness. It really runs the gamut."
QB Baker Mayfield: "Obviously, Chase Young, a high draft pick, but he is playing like it. He is proving why they chose him so high."
T Jack Conklin: "You can see what he was in college, obviously, and to see how that has translated so far for him in the NFL, that's impressive. It's a tough transition for anybody, but he's doing an awesome job, and I think he's going to be a great player in the league for a long time."
T Jedrick Wills: "He's just a freak of nature. You don't see a lot of guys like him around the league. He just has a lot of size and ability and a lot of speed and power, which is a good combination of everything you need."
G Joel Bitonio: "There's a reason he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. He makes plays. For D-linemen, sometimes it takes a second to go – you get drafted and you don't have a preseason – but he's really flowing off the edge from the start. The thing that really sticks out is obviously, he has all the intangibles -- the speed, the size, the arm length and the closing speed – but it is really the football knowledge.
"You see a shift and he'll make a spin inside or he plays off blocks. Those are things you see vets do, usually the veteran pass rushers. He's making moves. He just understands football, which is big for a pass rusher, because you know when the slide is coming your way or you're getting double-teamed, there are ways to kind of defeat that. All of them have teed off on the quarterback, but I think he's the guy that they are putting the red dot on and being like, 'Hey, this is our bell cow and everybody is going to feed off of that.'"
OL Coach Bill Callahan: "The thing that's pretty fascinating about him is that he carries himself so well in terms of his style of play and his ability to adjust and also to counter. And that's where I think most young players, they don't have that repertoire of moves in their tool box to throw at a pass protector. That's why I think he's really advanced. He has all the tricks and all the toolbox techniques that you want to have for a great defensive end. And he's going to be great in our league, make no mistake about it.
"It's just interesting, comparatively speaking, I was talking to our guys about who he reminds them of, and a lot of the guys said Jadeveon Clowney as a young pass rusher. So that was interesting because he does. He has that explosive element to his game, and then he has the combination of his hands, that explosiveness, that can really create an effect. And then what really worries you is off the edge and his ability to create that speed around the corner and jar the ball loose from the quarterback when he's disconnecting the throw. That's always something you have to emphasize as a protection coach is finishing the protection, riding out the pass protector, not only just up the field but over top of the arc of the protection pocket."
Young's third career game was cut short, as he left with a groin injury early in the second quarter. The injury forced Young to miss Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens, and he admitted that it continued to effect him even after he returned. Over the next three games against the Los Angeles Rams, at the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, he failed to record a sack but amassed three tackles for loss and made other impact plays. And he was still on opposing coaches and players' minds before and after their respective contests.
Rams QB Jared Goff: "They're really good up front. We'll see if Chase Young plays; he's a great player, and he provides a lot of challenges for us."
OC Kevin O'Connell: "They added the No. 2 pick in the draft, who's been as dynamic as any young player in our league this year when you watch him on tape."
Giants HC Joe Judge: "This guy, first off, he's really athletic...which enables him to do a variety of things. His speed off the edge is very good, his reaction on the counter moves, the way he plays off contact. He has great instincts to find the ball, which is very important because this is a guy, you go to the Eagles game, they really chipped him a lot with the running back and the tackle and they try to get the double teams to slow him down. You watch him in that and his ability to spin off and get inside and really still isolate and make it a one on one matchup and get to the quarterback. He has a great knack for finding the ball in the pocket and really going and attacking the quarterbacks as they're trying to step up in the pocket. He has versatility to drop in the pass. He can really play in the zones. He has good breaking speed, he's a good tackler. This guy plays with a high motor.
"Look, Young and [Montez] Sweat, these guys are really, really good coming off the edge. They're both explosively fast, they're both athletic and they do a great job instinctively of understanding when you're oversetting of coming underneath, and if you're staying too tight, of running by you with speed. They do a great job of getting to the quarterback, putting pressure on him and forcing bad throws that gives the DBs behind them opportunities."
T Andrew Thomas: "Obviously, very talented guy, but not just him. Their whole front, I think, is like five first-round draft picks. It's going to be a good matchup for our tackles and our inside guys."
Cowboys QB Ben DiNucci (postgame): "I think the biggest thing is that guys are just bigger than what I'm used to. Obviously, coming from James Madison, you don't see guys like Chase Young coming at you every day. But the bottom line is that football is football."
After recording a sack against the Giants in Week 9, Young faced the biggest adversity of his young career when he was called for a roughing the passer penalty at the end of Washington's game against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 15. That penalty allowed the Lions to get into field goal range and then convert the game winner to drop Washington to 2-7.
But instead of hiding from the media, Young took accountability for his "rookie mistake" and vowed to keep playing hard for the remainder of the season. And from that point on, Young took his game to another level, starting with his performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bengals HC Zac Taylor: "Yes, we did [meet with Young during the pre-draft process.] Very impressed. Very impressive kid. I wouldn't call him a kid, I'd call him a man. Very impressive man."
G Michael Jordan: "He's still dominating just like he was at Ohio State. His quickness is one of his great attributes and so are his hands, so that's something the offensive line is going to have to go against this week."
QB Joe Burrow: "One of a kind. He's a rare talent that's just going to continue to get better every single game and every year. He's just really athletic, and you always have to have a game plan for those kind of guys. Give them presence, chip them, throw a lot of different things their way."
Burrow and Young, the top 2 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, met at the goal line in the second quarter of the Week 11 matchup. Burrow looked like he was going to slip into the end zone for a rushing touchdown before Young came out of nowhere, clobbering Burrow with his right shoulder to knock the ball out. Washington recovered, preserving the 7-0 advantage, and eventually secured a 20-9 win.
Young carried the momentum from that play into Washington's Thanksgiving showdown with the Cowboys four days later. He matched his season-high with two tackles for loss and notched a sack in a 41-16 rout on the national stage.
Young went from the NFL's best defensive rookie to the league's top defensive player during the final five games of the regular season. As Washington climbed back into the NFC East before clinching the division in Week 17, Young became a captain while stuffing the stat sheet with 17 total tackles, including three tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, three passes defensed and a touchdown. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year with these performances, which drew rave reviews from opponents.
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin (pregame): I can't say enough about their edge presence with the talented edge rushers, Chase Young being a top draft pick from this past draft."
Tomlin to Young (midgame): "I don't ever want to lose enough games to get a guy like you, you know what I mean? And I play against you all the time. 'Cause you gotta lose 14, 15 games to get a guy that looks like you."
San Francisco 49ers T Trent Williams (pregame): "I do see some similarities [between Young and Nick Bosa]. Their body type is kind of different, so little things shine through on each person. Very active with their hands and always active, always moving, not an easy target to hit. Chase has just got a lot of athletic ability that you can't teach and literally just the gene pool lottery."
HC Kyle Shanahan (pregame): "I agree with what Trent said [about the similarities between Young and Nick Bosa]. They come from the same school, and they've got a really good D-line coach, so you see all of those moves. But also two different types of players. [Young's] got a lot of speed and it's not hard to see exactly why he was a top guy in the draft."
RB Raheem Mostert (pregame): "They're very stout upfront. They've got two great ends that can really get up the field and cause havoc for any offense. And like you saw against the Steelers, they did a damn good job with that."
QB Nick Mullens (postgame): "Obviously, Chase Young's a very good player and you can notice his speed from the start. I threw a screen pass in the first quarter and he ran down from the D-Line spot and made the tackle. That's kind of when I noticed, I was like, 'Yeah, he's actually pretty fast."
Williams (postgame): "Chase Young's going to be a heck of a player in this league. He's still young and the scary thing is he's gonna get extremely better in years to come, so offensive tackle is pretty scary for guys who play that position. ...His hustle just away from the ball, it changes the type of player he is and makes him a sparkplug for the defense."
Carolina Panthers OC Joe Brady: "What doesn't he do? I followed Chase Young back when he was at DeMatha High School and played against him when he was at Ohio State, and he was just dominant everywhere he's been. He can play both the run and the pass. He's dynamic. His first step, his twitch, he's explosive. It's hard being a rookie, the sky's the limit for him. Already the disruption that he can do as a rookie right now, he's going to be a great football player for a while. It's not necessarily all the things he can do. It's trying to find things that he can't do right now."
S Jeremy Chinn: "He's a high-impact player. I haven't really been able to see much from him because we both play on Sundays, so I haven't really been able to watch him play. But yeah, he's a good football player."
Young did not lead Washington in any of the main pass-rushing statistics -- those honors went to Sweat -- but he was certainly the face of the NFL's No. 2 total defense entering the Wild Card matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His overall impact was undeniable, his passion contagious and his leadership paramount as the franchise prepared to play in its first postseason game in five seasons. By this point in the year, you could not bring up Washington's defense without mentioning Young.
Buccaneers HC Bruce Arians: "It's kind of like what Mike Tomlin was talking about: you don't want to draft that high to get guys like that, but you've got to play against them. He's a hell of a player. Obviously, making him a captain as a rookie speaks volumes. Both those kids from Ohio State – him and McLaurin – are great kids."
T Tristan Wirfs: "I think just how athletic he is. I think they've got a good one-two punch with Chase and Montez Sweat. Montez Sweat -- he's more of a power rusher, and Chase -- he throws a lot of moves at you and tries to bend that edge. I think that's another big thing too -- if you bubble him when he's coming around the edge, he can dip down low and he does a good job keeping his toes pointed at the quarterback. They're both really good rushers, so it's going to be fun."
QB Tom Brady: "He's obviously a great young player, so we got our hands full with that D-Line, one of the best D-Lines in the league. Chase is a great young player."
Young could only muster three total tackles in Washington's 31-23 defeat, while Brady completed 22 of his 40 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. It was not the way Young wanted his rookie campaign to end, but it did not take away from everything he accomplished during his first professional season. Like Brady said after the game, there's a "bright future" for the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year.