The Falcons' offseason moves highlight the need for a weak-side linebacker through the draft. Darron Lee from Ohio State stands out in this draft as the best weak-side linebacker. Atlanta has already brought him in for a private workout and would look at him as a weak-side linebacker within Dan Quinn's scheme. His speed and intelligence would be assets, but there are questions regarding his experience and physicality.
Ohio State University
Combine/Pro Day Measurements
Height: 6'1" Weight: 232 pounds
Arm Length: 33-5/8" Hand Measurement: 10-1/4"
40 yard dash: 4.43 sec. 10 yard split: 1.54 sec.
20 yard shuttle: 4.20 sec. 3-cone Drill: 7.12 sec. Bench Reps: 17 reps
Vertical Jump: 35.5" Broad Jump: 11'1"
Closest Athletic Comparison: Lavonte David
Much like Lee, David has the same kind of athleticism that most NFL strong safeties have. Lee tends to have that straight-line speed that David doesn't have though. If he gets his hands on a ball, he can take it to the house from any spot on the field. That kind of athleticism also allows him to be extremely rangy in coverage and a bit of a force when he's asked to blitz. Lee is an ideal fit for any scheme, but should thrive more as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3.
Stats (From CFB Stats)
2015: 13 Games Played, 66 Tackles, 11.0 Tackles for Loss, 4.5 Sacks, 7 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 2 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2014: 15 Games Played, 81 Tackles, 16.5 Tackles for Loss, 7.5 Sacks, 3 QB Hurries, 2 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered, 3 Pass Deflections, 2 Defensive Touchdowns
Overall athleticism is Darron Lee's biggest strength right now. As a former quarterback, he understands the game well, but when it comes to just flying around the field at linebacker, Lee can definitely do that. His speed makes him an ideal weak-side defender, as he can cover large areas of ground pretty quickly. He can use his range in coverage very well and has instincts on exactly where to be in his zones.
As a pass rusher, there's few with his kind of speed off the edge, and he uses it well to create pressure. He's very effective at creating plays behind the line while also showing effectiveness in coverage. He penetrates against the run well and can wrap up running backs, tight ends and receivers and take them down effectively. Lee's also a threat to take it to the house anytime he gets his hands on the ball, and that's a nice bonus to have at linebacker.
Lee's biggest issue in his game comes from what looks like a lack of physicality in the run game when engaging blocks from offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs. It looks more like an issue processing what exactly to attack on the inside of the play and he would do better with more people in front of him taking on blocks instead of a strong-side situation like what he played at in Columbus.
He also doesn't have a ton of experience in a linebacker role. Primarily playing at wide receiver, safety and quarterback through high school, Lee didn't start playing linebacker until his redshirt year for the Buckeyes. So he's still very raw at the position despite having a great understanding. There are also questions about whether he can maintain his speed while increasing his frame for the pros.
How does he fit the Comrade Filter?
Much like many of the Falcons picks over the past near-decade, the Ohio State linebacker has never been arrested or suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Lee's not a team captain, but he has shown the leadership on the field when it comes to addressing alignments with gestures to help keep guys aligned. Off the field, he's known as a hard working football player and should get nothing but positive reviews for character.
His physicality is questioned on the field, but his attitude isn't. As his college defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told Vaughn McClure at ESPN: "He plays pissed off. He's that guy that emotions flare. That's football. That makes you a hell of a lot better." It may not show on film just yet, but if he is the fiery player that Fickell thinks he is, then he may just need to get more comfortable at linebacker before that side shows on the field.
Lee's best fit is at weak-side linebacker for an NFL team where he'd be used primarily in passing downs as a rangy safety/linebacker hybrid type; this would also protect him in the run game by putting multiple bodies in front of him and forcing him to only really cover one gap at a time. His athleticism is at it's best when he has the ability to roam large areas of the field, and it showed on film.
At his worst, Lee is someone who gets stuck in traffic on the interior of plays due to too much exposure in run defense. It's not his forte. If Lee can really improve as a run defender, NFL teams should absolutely love him. He's got tools to work with and is a first round talent. The bigger issue with his draft ranking stems from how linebackers in a 4-3 are completely undervalued within the NFL.
How he would fit into the Falcons' plans
Should the Falcons want to procure the services of Darron Lee, they'll likely have to spend their first round pick on the linebacker. That's not a big deal. He's worth the pick and despite some physicality concerns, some of it looks like it's him having issues processing the plays more than him having issues on actually attacking and tackling some guys. As he continues to develop, the Falcons should get more and more out of him.
His strengths come in the passing game as a coverage guy and occasional blitzer. In run defense, he'll have to get more physical. He'll learn to process plays quicker, as he continues to gain more experience in the position, and he'll also benefit from a slight alignment change when he slides in as a weak-side linebacker for the Falcons. Having guys like Courtney Upshaw, Ra'Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett eating blocks in front of him should help tremendously.