Darron-Lee-600x429Written by Sean Kirby (@scurvyidp)

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State University


Telvin Smith, DeAndre Levy, Vontaze Burfict and Lavonte David are not all that similar.  However, they have all played every-down WLB roles in a 4-3 system.  They also account for 40% of the top 5 IDP linebacker finishers over the past 3 years.  That’s in spite of the fact that 4-3 WLBs only make up 11% of starting linebackers and 17% of off-ball linebackers.  It’s an undeniable sweet spot for IDP.  Therefore, when a player seems destined to fill that role, they deserve some attention.  In Darron Lee’s case, the pot is sweetened by the fact that he has areas where he excels.   That’s not to say he excels in all areas, but first we need to step back.

Darron Lee was a 3-star recruit as a quarterback and cornerback coming out of High School.  Living a short drive from Ohio State, he started making appearances at recruiting events and camps, despite not receiving much interest from the program.  Lee practiced with wide receivers and cornerbacks, while trying to draw the attention of the program.  He even notes that he pretty much neglected forming a solid backup plan.  Meanwhile, Urban Meyer admits to neglecting the persistent local quarterback, who just kept showing up.  Eventually, he would be given a shot.  OSU took the prospect as a safety, but converted him to LB before the end of his redshirt year.   It was, therefore, somewhat surprising when the 3-star recruit who had been playing LB <1 year came out as a vocal leader prepared to lead the defense in the absence of Ryan Shazier.  Lee posted 80 combined tackles in addition to an impressive 6.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions.  His statistics would take a small step back in 2015, posting only 66 combined tackles, although he once again got to the quarterback regularly with 4.5 sacks.

NFL Combine results

To say Darron Lee had a outstanding combine would be an understatement.  Not only did he post the fastest 40 among LBs, he would have been the 7th fastest wide receiver and the 5th fastest RB.  His 133 inch broad jump was also #1 among LBs and #3 among all combine participants.  The performance didn’t stop there.  He was a top 10 finisher in almost all events, including his 35.5 inch vertical jump (5th among LBs), 7.12 second 3 cone drill (top 10 among LB), and 4.2 second 20 yard shuttle (3rd among LBs).  His physical tools cannot be doubted after he got a chance to show them off in Indianapolis.


Tackling – Lee is a proficient tackler, using speed and leverage to his advantage.  He typically makes low contact and wraps up well.  His tape is full of plays where he uses his long arms to bring down defenders while engaged by a blocker.

Instincts – I am impressed with the instincts Lee shows after playing LB <3 years.  At the very least, he appears decisive and aggressive in his decision making.  However, he does sometimes overrun plays or take bad angles and he won’t be able to rely on athleticism to make up for missteps at the next level.

Run Defense – If there’s an Achilles heel, it’s here.  And it’s a big one, as run defense makes up the majority of IDP stats for most elite IDP LBs.  It’s not that Lee is bad in run defense as much as he just hasn’t been asked to do it routinely.  He played “in the box” a disconcertingly small percent of the time.  His contributions will likely come from chasing down plays and shooting gaps.  If asked to take on and shed blockers, he’s likely to get tied up.

Pass Rush – This is the bonus for Lee.  Posting 11 sacks in 2 years is a bit eye-catching for an off-ball linebacker.  However, Lee is not an edge rusher.   He’s not going to power his way through any defensive fronts, but has the speed to fly past unsuspecting blockers if schemed well.   It’s unclear if NFL teams will employ him in the same way.

Coverage – This one’s kind of a no brainer for the safety/cornerback turned linebacker.  He moves fluidly and trusts his instincts, which don’t steer him wrong frequently.  In the rare instance he finds himself out of position, he has plenty of quicks to make up for it.  He will have no problem covering RBs and TEs immediately, which will be key in allowing him to land a 3-down job.

Size – Lee possesses adequate size to play linebacker in the NFL, but he won’t be the largest player by far.  At 232 lbs, he has probably maxed out his 6’1″ frame after adding 37 pounds over the past 3 years.  His arm length is a plus.

Athleticism – See NFL Combine Results (above).  We’re good.

Versatility – Lee’s most natural fit at the next level will be 4-3 WLB.  At that position, adequate coverage abilities and speed are prerequisites.  It also wouldn’t be a huge stretch to see Lee play 3-4 ILB or even SS (the position he was originally listed at OSU).  One final option would be 4-3 MLB, which would have seemed like a stretch before we saw Kwon Alexander succeed in that role.

Intangible – The story of his persistence in the recruitment process is inspiring.  His leadership as a redshirt freshman with minimal LB experience was bold to put it politely.  Maybe these anecdotes don’t cement him as a “leader of men,” but he has shown some tenacity throughout his college career.  It’s also worth noting that there are no major red flags to report.

Medical – There are no ongoing medical issues of note.

Motor – Lee doesn’t give up on plays, playing with borderline frenetic intensity most of the time.  Whether working his way across field or chasing down a play that’s gotten past him, his effort will help him milk the game for every IDP stat possible.

NFL Draft Projections

Despite appearing on numerous Top 20 Lists, Darron Lee is no guarantee to be selected in the first round.  Off-ball linebackers are infrequently selected early due to a vague, but widely-accepted, belief about the value of the position.  With Myles Jack clearly going in the first round, and numerous other off-ball linebackers potentially getting drafted in the same range, Lee could land pretty much anywhere from the mid 1st to late 2nd.  I see him most likely landing in the early to mid 2nd.

The New York Giants are my favored landing spot for Lee in the draft.  Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense would allow Lee to immediately take over the starting WLB job from JT Thomas.  This would of course be a day 2 selection, as the Giant’s aren’t picking Lee at #10 overall.  The landing spot would be fantasy gold, although it doesn’t immediately salvage a linebacker corp filled out by Devon Kennard and Keenan Robinson.  The weak defense could actually help Lee’s value if he has a lot of messes to clean up on a defense that can’t get off the field.

Other 4-3 teams in need of LB are help are less likely to find Lee on draft day, as both the Bengals and Falcons pick fairly late in the second round.  Either team could use a LB with Lee’s skill set, but have bigger needs to address in the first round. Lee would likely be an every-down player on the Falcons, beating out Philip Wheeler at WLB.  Cincinnati would be trickier, where he would at least get an opportunity to sniff the field during Vontaze Burfict’s suspension.  After Burfict returns, things are less clear.

Finally, it wouldn’t be disastrous to see Lee slip to a 3-4 team in need of ILB help.  Green Bay is one team with a very unsettled linebacker depth chart.  An above average coverage guy could be a nice complement to sophomore Jake Ryan, while also allowing Clay Matthews return to OLB, where he can be more effective.

Fantasy Projections

Darron Lee is my #2 linebacker in this year’s rookie fantasy drafts.  It’s a lofty spot, but perhaps less valuable than it appears.  First, linebacker is one of the deeper positions in fantasy.  Unless I’m getting an elite guy, I’m hesitant to use a pick from the first two rounds of a rookie draft.  I do believe Lee has the potential to be a top 6 linebacker.  Unlike Myles Jack, this is merely possible instead of likely, as Lee will need to grow in at least one area (run defense).  In his defense, he has only been playing LB <3 years, so growth seems very possible.  While I greatly prefer his upside to linebackers in the same tier (read: Reggie Ragland), the difference isn’t huge.   If I NEED a linebacker, I would spring for Jack in the late 1st/early 2nd.  If I’m content with my current starters and only WANT to find the next big thing, I’ll take the cheapest of Lee, Ragland, and Jaylon Smith.


Lee’s physical tools align with the current trends in the NFL for huge IDP upside.  The pendulum will surely swing back eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I believe there are at least a few more years where smaller faster LBs will be securing larger roles across the NFL.  After Myles Jack, Darron Lee is the most talented of that group this year and has played against legitimate competition in college.