Chase Young knows a strong junior season will propel him up NFL Draft boards and that's great news for Ryan Day and Ohio State fans.
Expected to be Nick Bosa's sidekick a season ago, Young was thrust into the spotlight after Bosa went down for the season in week three against TCU and responded with 34 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 14 games.
The 15.5 tackles for loss led the team and ranked fifth in the Big Ten while his 10.5 sacks tied for the conference lead.
Young also added nine quarterback hurries, good for best on the squad, and five pass breakups.
Impressive stats to be sure, one way Young can better capture the attention of NFL scouts is to improve his consistency this fall.
Following Bosa's season-ending injury, Young posted 4.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks in the next two games against Tulane and Penn State but over the ensuing five games, he managed just 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack against the likes of Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Nebraska and Michigan State. In the final three games of that stretch, he tallied just four total tackles.
Just when it seemed like he stuck in a rut, to his credit, he turned it on over the final four games posting 11 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks against the likes of Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern and Washington.
If you're scoring at home, that equates to 45% of his tackles for loss and 57% of his sacks on the full season coming over the final four games which equate to just 29% of his games played.
To be fair, Young isn't the first defensive end to be a bit on the streaky side and luckily for Ohio State some of his best performances came against the best opponents and/or at crucial times over those final four contests. He also battled ankle injuries for the majority of the season without complaint.
In what turned out to be a 52-51 overtime nailbiter over Maryland, Young announced his presence with a key sack on a 3rd-and-19 play backing the Terps up from the OSU 26 to the 32 yard line leading directly to a 49-yard missed field goal try as the Buckeyes clung to a 17-3 lead.
Tied at 45 apiece late in the fourth quarter, Young posted another sack of Tyrrell Pigrome, good for a 14-yard loss from the OSU 38 to the Maryland 48 with just three seconds left in regulation.
The following Saturday against Michigan, Young posted two stops, a tackle for loss, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry as Ohio State cruised to victory.
Against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, Young turned in arguably his best game of the season.
With Ohio State leading 14-7 in the second quarter, Young came off the edge and strip-sacked Clayton Thorson paving the way for the OSU offense to kick a field goal for a 17-7 lead with 6:09 left before halftime.
In the third quarter, with the Buckeyes clinging to a 24-21 advantage, Young again cornered on rails for a 2nd-and-11 sack forcing the Wildcats further off schedule leading to a punt. Once the Buckeyes offense regained possession, it scored six plays later to take a 31-21 lead.
Finally, Young added a sack with OSU leading 45-24 late in the fourth quarter leading to a Northwestern punt allowing the Buckeyes to run out the clock.
In the season finale out in Pasadena, Young capped his sophomore campaign with a sack of Jake Browning leading to a turnover on downs with the Buckeyes cruising 28-3.
We'll see if the 2018 season stretch run serves as a springboard to 2019 success but the good news is he'll have more balanced help off the edge than he did last fall.
When Bosa went down, Jonathon Cooper slotted as the starter opposite Young and while he arrived in Columbus as a five-star blue chip, he was serviceable but not spectacular posting 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 13 games. Now a true senior, Cooper should be better equipped to make an even bigger impact this fall.
Regardless of how Cooper performs in his swan song, sophomore Tyreke Smith looks primed to take a huge step forward after playing the fourth-most snaps at the position a year ago despite his then-freshman status. The fact Jashon Cornell seems to have shifted full time to defensive tackle only bolsters the notion Smith's time could be now and his emergence could be Young's gain.
Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste should provide additional depth but likely won't take any pressure off Young.
With another year under Larry Johnson's guidance, the improved supporting cast on the edge and the understanding of what a consistently dominant season could do for his bank account, Young should be poised to be a force for Ohio State this fall.