The Buffalo Bills’ defense has been inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they’ve transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. Some players throughout the front seven that were productive in Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz’ defensive schemes that were based on 4-3 concepts haven’t been able to replicate that success in their new roles. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee.
Previous Prospect Breakdowns
Darron Lee is only a redshirt sophomore, but the 6’2” 230-pound linebacker quickly made a name for himself in just two years as a starter for the Buckeyes, recording 147 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, five pass breakups, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. The 2014 Freshman All-American and 2015 Second-Team All Big-10 member fits the mold of the “new age” linebacker necessary in today’s NFL.
Don’t let his size fool you, as he was a physically imposing presence within the Buckeyes’ defense.
Lee has decent size with incredible athletic ability and play speed that allow him to stay on the field for all three downs. Because he possesses sideline-to-sideline speed, Ohio State asks Darron Lee to play to the wide side of the field, where he’s often asked to cover running backs in the flat, sniff out screens, drop into a hook zone and even run with tight ends on occasion.
Lee’s range and physicality is evident in the following play, as he shows blitz before chasing down the Notre Dame receiver near the sidelines for a loss.
Darron Lee Run Support
Oftentimes these “new age” undersized linebackers get totally washed out against the run. However, while Lee only weighs around 230 pounds, he shows good play strength and possesses long arms and violent hands that he uses to disengage from oncoming blockers.
Here, Lee is lined up in the slot against a spread look by Notre Dame. He’s able to get inside the pads of his man, effectively forcing the running back to the sideline before working his way down the line of scrimmage, shedding the block and making the tackle for a short gain.
Against Michigan State Darron Lee showed this same ability as a force player against the run, working his man away from the ball and allowing his teammate a clear lane to make the play.
Lee also shows good anticipation and the explosiveness to shoot a gap and make plays in the backfield.
Darron Lee is physical for his stature and isn’t afraid to look for work when there’s traffic around him.
Darron Lee Coverage Ability
Darron Lee can be slow to anticipate route concepts when dropping into zone coverage, but he has the suddenness and explosiveness to break on the ball in a hurry. He’s physical with tight ends down the seam and has the power to re-route them.
Here, Lee is split out in the slot at the bottom of the screen. He drops to cover the receiver running a vertical route, but immediately breaks on the swing pass by Connor Cook, delivering a huge hit to jar the ball loose.
As an inside linebacker in a 3-4 system, Lee’s primary coverage responsibility would be as a flat defender, which he is clearly capable of handling.
Darron Lee Pass Rush
In most 3rd-and-long situations, Ohio State moved Darron Lee down to the line of scrimmage as an edge rusher or over the “A” gap as an extra pass rusher. Despite his 225-230 pound frame, Lee routinely showed the ability to beat offensive linemen with both speed and power.
In the following play, Lee wins on a blitz from the inside linebacker position notching a sack-fumble.
Here he is forcing an incompletion with pressure off the edge.
And in maybe the most impressive play of his, Lee is at his usual outside linebacker position, aligned to the field side. He drops into a shallow zone, but the pocket collapses and forces the quarterback to scramble. Lee sees this and immediately explodes into the backfield for a sack.
Potential Fit With Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills really need to add depth at the inside linebacker position, especially if Nigel Bradham walks away in free agency. I’m typically not a big fan of the sub-230-pound linebackers, but Lee has the frame to put on more weight and I’d expect him to show up to the combine weighing around 235. He’s extremely athletic and physical, already showing an advanced level of technique when defending the run despite being a 21-year old RS Sophomore. Lee will be coveted by 4-3 teams as a WILL linebacker, but I think he has the skill-set and a high ceiling to be effective as a 3-4 inside ‘backer.