A name that made headlines at the combine was outside linebacker Darron Lee. The hybrid backer/safety put up some impressive numbers to catch the eyes of scouts. He ran one of the fastest forty times for a linebacker in over a decade and his 4.47 was faster than most wide receivers. Quite the speed for a guy that is 6’1″, 232 pounds. It didn’t end there, he put up an astounding 11’1″ broad jump, vertical jump of 35″ and a 20 yard short shuttle of 4.2 seconds. After that performance he was one of the guys that I wanted to study a little more going into this draft.
The Bills are currently in the need for a WILL linebacker. A guy that can play the position when the Bills are in their 4-3 under defense.
But a guy that can slide inside when the Bills are in their 3-4 defense.
Obviously the position is one that is seen as a play-making position but it is a spot that has to be occupied by a well rounded player. Many scouts project Lee as a WILL outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. I completely agree, the kid would excel at that position in the NFL. He produced in a similar position in college.
In two years (28 games) with the Buckeyes he produced 146 total tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and 3 interceptions. Lee is a versatile player and Urban Meyer used him as such.
Lee is a player that Rex would love to have on his defense. Rex’ defense is a hybrid scheme so most of the players that are play-makers are versatile players. They are the players whose numbers are called quite often. Plays are drawn up for those guys to run around and make plays. But after watching film on this talented player, I wonder how well he will play in this scheme.
There is no doubt that his strengths are his speed and physical ability. He is a superb tackler on the run.
Here he sees the guard pull away so he gets into the backfield for the stop.
On this play he is in the slot versus Amari Cooper. He reads and attacks the bubble screen. Approaches under control and finishes the tackle on a slippery wide receiver. He is more of an arm tackler, not a thumper.
There is no question that Lee can run and cover a lot of real estate when in zone coverage.
But on film I saw him struggle in zone coverage. He gets to his landmark, but then has trouble acquiring WRs coming into his zone.
Lee should read pass immediately and then get out to the flats, instead he covers “dirt”.
He is still raw in terms of reading and diagnosing plays as a linebacker. This is what worries me about him as an inside linebacker in the Bills’ defense. Reads need to be made quicker, shedding blockers needs to happen faster and more efficiently. He has very little experience doing that in college. It can be taught, which is why many teams aren’t afraid to draft this guy early. But in the Bills system, the abilities to read, diagnose and finish are needed if Rex wants the player to start. I am not sold on Lee in that department and here is why:
When Lee played against NFL type offenses he struggled against the run.
At times he was slow to read run plays. Of course his physical ability allowed him to mask some of those deficiencies. But in the NFL everyone has superior talent and I believe he will get eaten up by lineman and fullbacks.
On this play as soon as the tackle and tight end block down he should get downhill and meet the fullback at the line of scrimmage. Instead he’s slow on the read, he takes false steps and is kicked out by the FB.
But Lee isn’t that far off from being a starting WILL linebacker.
This didn’t happen often, but he does possess the skills to be a solid linebacker. He reads the front side blockers well and gets down hill. He takes on the block with the proper shoulder and forces the back inside. Solid technique but he needs to work on producing that consistently.
He shows the ability to read the G/T to the FB. The offense throws a false read by sending the FB to the offenses right. But then the FB cuts back to lead the play. Lee reads it well, fights through the traffic, but just misses.
But the most intriguing aspect of Lee’s game to me is his ability to rush the passer. Rex Ryan loves blitzing his linebackers, especially on those fire zone pressures.
Take a look at how often the LBs blitzed in 2015.
The amount of times our linebackers blitzed is right on par with what Rex normally does, but the problem is that Nigel and Brown weren’t effective. Darron Lee shows the athletic ability to be a difference maker when he blitzes.
Rex would love to have an inside linebacker that he could draw up blitzes for on 3rd down. Rex likes to disguise his pressures. So he will have three defensive lineman down and mix up where the fourth rusher is coming from. Lee would be a great wild card in those pressures.
Look at him attack the B gap, rip through the weak block then run the hoop to the QB.
On this play Joey Bosa throws a wrench into the QB draw, and Lee cleans up.
His speed and flexibility offer defensive coordinators the ability to use him on edge pressures. Look how fast he gets up-field and affects the pass.
The Bills defense definitely had its share of troubles getting to the quarterback. Darron Lee is a perfect fit for the Bills in that department. As an inside linebacker in nickel and dime packages he would be a tremendous addition because he could be used as a blitzer in Rex’ exotic play-calls. He offers the same chase and tackle skills that Nigel Bradham brought to the defense. But I do worry about how well he would fit in the Bills base defense. Much like Bradham, Lee struggles to read offensive plays and finish at or near the line of scrimmage. He was never asked to read the offensive play, read the 2 gapping defensive lineman, then fill the window.
He doesn’t have the same size as Nigel so he will most likely get eaten up by lineman. Like most linebackers if he isn’t kept clean he won’t be a factor against the run. Lee has been compared to the former Buckeye Ryan Shazier and I think both are very similar. Both are fast flowing linebackers who sometimes don’t take the direct line to the offensive player. Sometimes their flow puts them out of position and causes them to miss tackles. Shazier had 13 missed tackles as an ILB in 2015, which tied him with Preston Brown.
Lee has the agility and speed to play man coverage but far too often he gets caught flat footed in his zone instead of trying to pick up players running through his area. He possesses the physical talent to get to the landmark in his zone, but needs to work on recognizing route concepts in order to put himself in the position to make plays.
Overall, I was pretty excited to watch film on Darron Lee. He didn’t disappoint. He has the potential to grow into a very productive player, but I question if he can produce in Rex’ scheme. I think he could clean up as the WILL in a 4-3/4-3 under defense, but I worry about how his game translates inside when the Bills are in a 3-4.
He is an instinctive and athletic player, but I value intelligent players at the inside linebacker position in this defense. Especially, if Rex doesn’t think that Preston Brown is the guy to run the defense. If there is anyone that knows linebackers it is Doug Whaley, it is a position that he has always drafted well. So if he chooses Lee with the 19th pick, I will be all for it.