Former first-round draft pick Darron Lee has endured his share of criticism since being drafted by GM Mike Maccagnan two years ago out of Ohio State University, with much of the criticism being justified.
Undersized in the eyes of many for an NFL inside linebacker at roughly 230 pounds, Lee struggled for much of last season and in the early parts of 2017. He was routinely mauled by opposing linemen who were able to get their hands on him as Lee wasn’t able to “out-athlete” them. However, over the past month or so, there has been a marked improvement in his play, and the folks at pro football have taken notice.
Lee is credited with 26 solo tackles and another 9 assists to go along with a pair of forced fumbles over his past five games. According to PFF, Lee has graded out as the 8th best linebacker in the league over the past two weeks. Here are some comments they had regarding Lee’s grade of 80.4 against the Falcons:
LB DARRON LEE, 80.4 OVERALL GRADE
Lee has been something of a punching bag for his play since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft. But much like Wilkerson, the past two weeks things have started to look like they’re coming together for him. He may never be the stoutest meeting blockers, but his speed gives him an edge, especially when bigger linemen are trying to get to him at the second level. Against Atlanta he showed how effective he can be with that.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Lee’s development has been the frequency with which his tackles have come within just a yard or two of the line of scrimmage. Lee’s athletic traits have never been in question, but the raw linebacker who started playing the position just a few years ago lacked anticipation.
With more than a full NFL season under his belt, we’re seeing Lee break on the ball (and ball carriers) quicker than he has in the past, resulting in six tackles for loss this season to go along with several pass break ups.
Lee may not be playing at a “game changer” level yet, but he’s certainly light years ahead of where he was just a year ago, and a player in his young 20’s with plenty of time to continue improving.