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Player Spotlight: Darron Lee

A detailed look at Darron Lee's fantasy prospects for 2016.

BOWLES’ BACKER

Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles has a reputation around the League of being a defensive guru. One of his greatest innovations while he served as Defensive Coordinator in Arizona was the “dimebacker” role. Bowles helped Cardinals Deone Bucannon become the gold standard example of a dimebacker. Playing this part entails playing up in the box, but having the flexibility to run and cover running backs, tight ends, or slot receivers if needed. It requires a special player with a versatile skillset.

Enter Mr. Versatility, Darron Lee. He played an astonishing five positions (cornerback, safety, quarterback, running back, and wide receiver) in high school before eventually transitioning to linebacker in college. He finished his senior year with 36 solo tackles and 30 assists, 11 of those tackles being for a loss. He had four and a half sacks, one interception, two passes defended, one forced fumble, and one defensive touchdown.

DARRON THE BOMB

Lee is extremely athletic and quick. He blew up the NFL Scouting Combine with a blazing 4.43 40-yard dash, along with strong performances in the vertical leap, three-cone drill, 20-yard short shuttle, and broad jump drills. Much like his Ohio State predecessor, Ryan Shazier, he has sideline to sideline speed. He has violent hands that can free him from would-be blockers. Also, he excels at diagnosing plays and being around the ball. He changes directions seamlessly and without losing speed, is excellent in space, and does well with his duties in either man or zone coverage. Lee is also a very good blitzer who can get small to shoot gaps. Lee’s skills are likely to lead the Jets to use him as their version of the dimebacker. Lee’s front three lineman (Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Muhammad Wilkerson) demand so much attention that he’ll be kept clean to make plays.

WEAK LEE

Lee is not slotted to start immediately. While he will see many defensive snaps this year, he is officially behind Erin Henderson on the depth chart. As is the case with many linebackers in this class, Lee’s size and functional strength are called into question. Many scouts believe his frame is maxed out. He can get swallowed up by bigger blockers at times and needs to improve his technique at slipping blocks. Another issue with Lee is missed or broken tackles. Some of these are created by a lack of size and strength to bring the runner down. Others are created by improper form when trying to make a stop.

POSITIVES

  • Lee is versatile. He can play an inside or outside linebacker role.

  • His supporting cast can divert blockers away from Lee so that he can make plays.

  • He  is likely to play a dimebacker role, making him especially valuable to IDP players.

NEGATIVES

  • Some doubt that Lee can add to his frame to improve his functional strength.

  • Lee needs to clean up his tackling and improve his ability to beat blocks.

  • Though he’ll see plenty of snaps, Lee probably won’t be the starter this year.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Have faith in Todd Bowles to get the best out of Lee and put him in a role that makes him very successful and productive in the NFL. Lee is currently acquirable in mixed pool rookie drafts with a late-second round pick. Getting him at or after this point in your draft is advisable.

2016 PROJECTIONS

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

63

32

1

1

1

5

1

0

141.00

AARON RUDNICKI'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

60

32

1

1

1

6

1

0

138.00

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

CBS’ Dane Brugler expresses optimism about Lee’s long-term prospects in his scouting profile:

Lee is a fantastic athlete with long arms and aggressive hands, but needs to develop his functional strength to consistently stack and shed at the line of scrimmage and keep himself clean. Although he is still young in linebacker years, he is a high character competitor, playing with sky-high confidence and natural football instincts to pick things up quickly. In the mold of Ryan Shazier or Kwon Alexander, Lee is a versatile run-and-hit linebacker with an attacking mind-set that fits today's NFL.

Dan Lavoie of Buffalo Rumblings outlines his doubts about Lee as a linebacker in the NFL:

Lee is one of the best pure athletes available in this draft class. I'm not convinced he's a great linebacker, though. At this stage, he's often out of position to be making plays. Generally, he's hesitant on film, and his tackling form is a work in progress. Could he eventually become a great player? It's possible, given his athletic ability. He's definitely not my preference, though. Given the talented football players who should be available in the first round, I don't think it makes sense to draft an unrefined athlete and hope his football skills keep trending upward.