The following is a series comparing current former Tennessee players who recently took part in the NFL combine to former UT standouts.
There’s a reason why coaches hate comparing players. No two are exactly the same and comparing a current player to a former great unfairly raises the expectations of a new, budding prospect. That being stated, here we go.
Byron Young has incredible, raw athletic ability. He has the ability to lean into an offensive lineman without losing speed, beat him with leverage and power, and collapse a pocket from the outside edge. Other than quarterback, there isn’t a more coveted position in football than an elite pass rusher. That’s what Young, who went from a supermarket employee to a standout SEC defensive player, is trying to become.
So, let’s throw caution to the wind and compare Young to one of Tennessee’s all-time best pass rushers.
Again, take this in stride. If Young turns out to be even a little bit like Little, there’s a star career awaiting Young. Here’s why the comparison is apt. Young is incredibly raw, just like Little, who was selected in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Little was so raw that the one-time All-Pro was actually played at middle linebacker at UT for one season because he simply could. However, he was a prototype defensive end as a pro, as proven by his 12-year NFL career and All-Pro selection.
Little was 6-foot-3 and 237 pounds at the combine. Young was listed at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. Little, however, ended up playing at over 260 pounds so Young will have to gain some weight to get in that class. Little was also a first-team All-American at Tennessee. Young was just a first-team All-SEC selection, but he clearly is just beginning to tap into his potential.
Young’s performance at the combine was phenomenal. He ran a 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash and posted a 38-inch vertical jump with an 11-foot broad jump. Little ran a 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash.
The two have one thing in common that could actually end up working in Young’s favor. In Little’s playing days, there was concern about him playing linebacker or defensive end. Nowadays, players are just allowed to be pass rushers whether or not they have their hand on the ground when the ball is snapped.
That indecision on Little’s position led to him being a third-round draft pick instead of going off the board in the first round, which many had projected. Young is expected to go somewhere in the same area of the draft. If that happens and he comes even close to replicating Little’s career, Young will be one of the best steals in the draft. The phenomenal story of Young could get even better.