With the 213th overall pick Martin Mayhew and co. selected defensive end Willie Young, a pick that could prove to be one of biggest robberies of the 2010 draft. Young solidified the left end position providing depth behind starter Cliff Avril, and according to the numbers, provided effectiveness in both the pass and run. With Avril entering unrestricted free agency, and likely to be offered a deal the Lions might not be in a position to match, could Willie Young be the 2012 starting left defensive end?
Cliff and Willie vs. The Pass
Willie Young played in only 28.7% of the pass snaps Cliff Avril played (132 and 460 respectively), but according to Pro Football Focus his Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP - a score based on pressuring the QB with sacks and hits weighted heavier than hurries) was 14.8 compared to Avril's 9.4 from the left side. Without weighting sacks and hurries, Young pressured the QB on 18.9% (25 pressures) of his pass snaps from the left side, more often than Avril's 11.7% rate (54 pressures).
Their sack rate is quite similar. Avril recorded a sack once per 41.8 pass snaps, compared to once per 44 pass snaps for Young. But Young did not force a fumble or record an interception, while Avril forced 6 fumbles and returned an INT for a touchdown.
Cliff and Willie vs. The Run
Young only played in 83 run snaps compared to Avril's 269. Yet once again, Young made the most of his opportunities. He recorded 6 tackles. Avril recorded 9. And Young made a stop (a loss for the offense) on 6% of his run snaps while Avril made a stop on 3% of his. To put their stoppage rates in perspective, Avril ranked 37th of all defensive ends in run stops that played in at least 50% of their team's run snaps. If Young maintained his 6% stoppage rate and played in 50% of the Lions' run snaps, he would've ranked 19th.
Avril had an outstanding year against the pass, and his 6 forced fumbles and one-handed interception on Christmas Eve were pivotal in the Lions' 10-6 record. But Avril struggled against the run, ranking 54th of all defensive ends.
Young pressured opposing QBs at an even higher rate than Avril, but he played in only 28.7% of the pass snaps that Avril did. He also scored the second highest PRP of all left ends who played in at least 100 pass snaps, only behind Julius Peppers. He was barely on the field on predictable run snaps, but performed well in that area as well.
No one in the Lions organization wants to let Avril go, after all he's still only 25 years-old, was third in sacks of all 4-3 left ends with 11, and increased his overall impact each year in the NFL. Retaining both these players would solidify the left end position for years to come. But Cliff may cost close to $10 million in 2012, whereas Willie is set to receive a base salary of $506,000. The unanswered question is whether or not Willie Young has the skill, strength, and endurance to maintain his 2011 numbers if asked to be the starter.