Scouting Report: How Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State) Could Play a Key Role in Miami’s Defense

Background & Stats:

Former Buckeye Darron Lee enters the draft as a redshirt sophomore. After playing quarterback and defensive back in high school, Lee transitioned to linebacker and started for Ohio State University during their national championship season in 2014. His breakout performance is widely considered the 2014 Sugar Bowl against Alabama, in which he accumulated seven total tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks. The national championship win against the Oregon Ducks concluded a terrific season by the athletic linebacker, marked by Freshman All-American accolades.

While his counting stats decreased slightly this past year, his level of play remained extremely consistent. In his two seasons at Ohio State, Lee totaled 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, and three interceptions (including a pick sick). The athleticism displayed on tape certainly translated to his combine performance. In fact, with a 4.47 40-yard dash, Lee outran most of the wide receivers at the workout. He was also a top performer in the vertical and broad jumps (33.5 and 133 inches, respectively), as well as the agility drills. These numbers have only added to the hype that has begun to surround him as a top prospect.

Positives:

Lee’s obvious strengths are his athleticism and his versatility. With his kind of speed and lower body strength, it is a ton of fun watching him make plays all over the field. He can blitz, disrupt the run game and, as a former safety, can obviously cover as well. While his frame and lack of ideal strength hurt him in breaking free from blocks, he is apt at exploiting holes along the line of scrimmage. This helps him rack up tackles for loss:

lee sack

He also has great recognition of plays which, when paired with his speed and acceleration, makes it seem like he is constantly making plays from sideline to sideline. His explosiveness is apparent in his tackles as well:

hard it

Perhaps most promising about his game, however, are his coverage abilities. He quickly diagnoses routes, and possesses above average change of direction skills and smooth hips. In addition, his size allows him to stick with tight ends, while his short area quickness makes it difficult for smaller receivers to beat him as well. Overall, many of these traits make him an ideal prospect in today’s NFL. As teams continuously transition into more spread offenses, having a versatile linebacker like Lee is definitely a blessing:

lee int

Negatives:

Lee has definitely put on weight since high school, but his play-strength and overall size are still subpar when compared to most linebackers. While his smaller size definitely contributes to his speed and abilities in coverage, it can hurt him as well. For example, he struggles at times to shed blocks:

lee block

In addition, Lee can definitely be overaggressive, and his tendency to miss tackles is also worrisome (21 missed tackles over the past two seasons):

missed tackle

Other than these weaknesses, Lee’s game understandably needs more time to develop. It is impossible to perfect every intricacy of the linebacker position in only two years. With the help of NFL coaching, some of these inconsistencies should disappear over time; but it will almost assuredly take some patience, especially while he simultaneously attempts to adapt to the overall increase in speed and talent at the next level.

Pro Comparison: Ryan Shazier (ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers):

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(Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

Lee’s best pro comparison may be the player he took over for at Ohio State. Ryan Shazier, the 15th pick of the 2014 draft, similarly blew scouts away with his speed and athleticism. The drill performances between these two players are eerily similar; even though Shazier bested Lee in the 40-yard dash (4.38 seconds) and vertical jump (42 inches), those numbers are off the charts and the rest of the stats do not lie.

Even beyond this though, the attributes that have teams drooling over Lee at this point in the process were what led the Pittsburgh Steelers to select Shazier with their first round pick: the speed, the tremendous ground he covers and the playmaking ability. They most certainly aren’t the league’s typical linebackers historically but, considering the evolution that has occurred in the game, Shazier and Lee both seem like the perfect fits at the position. Shazier has been held back by injuries so far in his young career, but he has displayed the potential impact he can have on a defense since the moment he put on the black and yellow uniform. Lee could have the same effect for a team.

How He Fits in Miami:

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(Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

If Kiko Alonso returns to the form he displayed in Buffalo, a duo of Alonso and Lee would seemingly be devastating for opposing offenses. Imagine the ground that these two would be able to cover together; there simply wouldn’t be many holes to exploit in Miami’s defense. This, of course, would be assuming that Alonso and Lee both play to the best of their abilities, a dangerous assumption, but the prospect of the two playing alongside each other is certainly intriguing.

The Dolphins need to continue to make improvements at the linebacker position. Lee would instantly instill youth, athleticism and excitement to the defense. While it would be unfair to expect him to be a perfect prospect, considering his limited experience at the position, his versatility and competitiveness alone suggest that he should find success at the next level.

At this point, Vance Joseph has a ton of holes throughout his defense, and he needs as many weapons as possible; Darron Lee would undoubtedly be another weapon. As teams around the league continue to search for linebackers with the versatility to rush the passer, stop the run and drop back in coverage, Lee certainly fits the bill. For me, it’s not a question of if Lee will be impressive in the NFL, but rather a question of when he will be able to put all of his tools together to maximize his performance. For a team like Miami who simply needs talent, they may have the patience it would take to select Lee in the draft. Who knows, maybe he will even become a star sooner than expected.

The problem is, Alonso and Lee are extremely similar players. Drafting Lee would most likely imply that the Dolphins are okay with playing Alonso out of position. While this is a possibility, it wouldn’t be the best way to maximize the talents of their player or their defense. If there is one thing that will keep the Dolphins from pulling the trigger, it will be this.

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