TOJ Roundtable – Darron Lee Edition

The TOJ Roundtable discusses Darron Lee’s long term role with the New York Jets

The TOJ Roundtable is back. Make sure to give everybody a follow on Twitter and to let us know your opinion down in the comment section below!

What type of player do you think Darron Lee will develop into for the New York Jets? Are you concerned at all after his rookie year?

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Joe CaporosoIt was frustrating to watch Darron Lee fail to make the impact of similar players drafted after him like Su’a Cravens and Deion Jones in 2016. Lee had an inconsistent rookie year, where there were flashes of athleticism mixed in major mental errors and struggles in the passing game. Many Jets fans have pointed to him being PFF’s leading tackler among rookie linebackers, while ignoring he was also their lowest graded overall rookie linebacker. The Jets drafted Lee to be a playmaker and to utilize his athleticism when defending spread offenses, if he cannot bring those abilities to the defense, his tackle total will remain nothing but an afterthought. Without David Harris next to him in 2017, the Jets are counting on Lee to take a major step. I tend to think long term he will be regarded as a first round reach, especially when playing between Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams.

Dalbin OsorioI’d be lying if I said I was not concerned about Darron Lee, a player who is more athletic than good at this current time. I was not a fan of the undersized Lee leading up to the draft, feeling like he was elevated by the talent around him. His first year involved minimal on the field plays and many off the field incidents that personally annoyed the crap out of me. He finished 3rd on the team in tackles, but if your sole job is to clean up the pieces that the stars up front lay down for you that is not all that impressive to me. So, yes I am worried.

He is now the main cog in this linebacking corps, but he is not the best one even though he is the one that is now responsible for filling the void left by the Hitman. He has to deliver more impact plays that are expected of a player drafted as high as he was, and who the Jets took over players that would have been better choices. If Lee can utilize that athleticism to get some deflections or force some turnovers then I’d be happy. I disagree with Joe Malta in that he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker; it’s all athleticism for him, and I don’t know that he’ll ever be that. I expect Demario Davis to have a better season than him.

Edward GorelikI’m the jerk who came up with an entire LB analytics idea just to figure out the answer to the Darron Lee question. Lee’s profile connects him to only four linebackers because there just aren’t a lot of players near his size that are playing linebacker in the NFL. Those players, in order of like-ness are:

Mychal Kendricks, Zavier Gooden, Malcolm Smith, and Kwon Alexander.

Kendricks was relegated to a role player after an extremely hyped rookie season, Gooden has no NFL career, Malcolm Smith slowly developed over four years to become a decent starter in Oakland, and Kwon is currently one of the NFL’s most efficient producers at the linebacker position.

Darron Lee has been given praise by PFF for his tackling efficiency (which they explained as being the amount of broken tackles per tackle attempts) but in my numbers of efficiency as a producer, Lee was far below the average as a -1.1% producer vs the average that faced his schedule. It’s normal for a rookie to not be efficient in this first year, but that puts him even closer to Kendricks the role player than Kwon the star.

I’m concerned that Lee’s future is minimal, and his impact on this team will be replaceable. But being an elite athlete gives you a lot of room for error and no matter how much I argue about his efficiencies or numbers, the future is unpredictable on such a small scale of a single player. I’m not expecting it to work out though.

Jake BenaquistoWith David Harris gone, Darron Lee is going to need to step up and be the leader of the Jets’ linebacker unit going forward. In his rookie season, Lee’s speed and tackling ability flashed at times, but he lacked consistency. Since the Jets drafted him in the first round, many fans are already labeling Lee a bust after his underwhelming first year. Nobody knows how good the OSU product will ultimately be in the NFL, but to say he is a bust after one season is just foolish. In fact, Lee actually led all rookie linebackers in tackling efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus. There’s no doubt that Lee needs to mature, both on the field and off it, but fans should be excited to see what he brings to the table heading into year two.

One of the areas that I would love to see Lee improve upon is his pass rushing ability. He finished 2016 with only one sack, which could be an indictment on the coaching staff. With Lee’s speed, he could bring an element to the Jets’ pass rush that they have been lacking for years. My hope is that Todd Bowles will design more blitz packages specifically for Lee, and perhaps utilize him as an outside linebacker in certain situations.

Ryan MarconeI thought Lee had a good, not great year. He is undersized for the position and you would like to see him put on some size so he could be more aggressive in the run game. But I thought he covered pretty well. On more than one occasion I saw he was in great coverage position and just happened to get beat by a perfect throw, which is hard to blame him for.

The more concerning issues with Lee come off the field rather than on. He has shown to be especially conscious of social media, which is dangerous in a market like New York if you’re not able to tune out the noise whenever anyone starts booing. And the incident with him and Leo Williams was a bad, bad look for Lee. Things like that can cost him the respect of his teammates and organization and if that happens it will be even harder for him to become a leader on the defensive side of the ball

Scott MasonI guess I’m somewhere between Joe Malfa and Dalbin Osorio when it comes to Darron Lee. I think he has the speed and athleticism necessary to become a pro bowl linebacker, but I’m also unsure if he has the instincts and football acumen to ever reach that potential. Durability is certainly an issue, but I’m far more concerned about his understanding of what is going on during the games at this point. Lee was sold to the fanbase as a three down linebacker – the type of guy who could tackle but also take care of tight ends and running backs in coverage. While we saw flashes at times last season, there were times when Lee looked downright lost out there, particularly in coverage. He also clearly has a maturity issue as well, which Dalbin already alluded to. He had some major off the field issues and even managed to get into silly social media situations, including one with yours truly (what can I say: apparently, I have a knack for getting under people’s skin – just ask NYDN’s Manish Mehta). So I guess my overall view with Lee is I am cautiously optimistic that his natural ability will overcome his negatives, but I’m definitely going to need to see more from him before I become a full-fledged believer.

Daniel EssenDarron Lee’s first season started with some promise but ended with a bit of doubt. Part of that was injury, and part of that was growing pains as a rookie. I believe Darron Lee can develop into a good starter but I think its largely dependent on who the Jets have playing next to him at ILB. In college he had Josh Perry and Raekwon McMillan carrying the bulk of the load and allowing him to roam around in different spots on the field and make plays. In the NFL, particularly this upcoming season, the Jets are putting much more responsibility on him at ILB (in terms of production) than he had at Ohio State. We’ll see how that turns out but after how last year ended, its reasonable to be concerned.

His rookie season mainly brought up two major concerns: coverage ability, and durability. Lee is a great athlete and his speed is a major asset. However, raw athleticism often isn’t enough to be successful in coverage in the NFL as a linebacker. It does mean he has room to improve, though, if he’s willing to put the work in. The durability concerns come with the territory as an undersized linebacker. As good as the Jets’ defensive line is at keeping the linebackers clean, Lee will still have to take on lineman throughout the season. Just like smaller fast RBs need to prove they can run between the tackles, linebackers like Lee need to prove they can not only survive the season but consistently make plays in the trenches.

Lastly, since I’m contractually obligated to mention Deion Jones every time Darron Lee comes up, note that both Jones and Lee are almost the exact same age and size (Lee listed as 10 pounds heavier). It’s interesting how different the perspective is on them now as opposed to before the draft. There’s a important distinction between athleticism and natural instincts. Jones’ confidence on the field is apparent because he has both. That kind of confidence is better than just talk. As a first round draft pick, that should be expected from Lee.

Joe MalfaJake already summed up my feelings on Lee, so I’ll go ahead and focus on my biggest concern for Lee going forward — his health. Lee has already battled some injuries, and his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame could yield an injury prone career. If he has trouble staying on the field, he will never have the chance to hone his craft and reach his full potential. With Lee’s speed, athleticism and tackling ability, he can be Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker.

David Aitken – It’s hard not to be a little concerned after Lee’s rookie season, especially in comparison to fellow draftees at the same position already offering better value. I think long term Lee won’t be viewed as an outright bust, but the question of whether he was smart value with a top 20 pick compared to alternatives will be a frequent source of debate in the coming years.

A slow start shouldn’t necessarily sound off the alarm bells either, however. He came into the league far from a finished product with just a year of significant action in Ohio State’s defense. Lee declared for the draft on the younger side (drafted at 21 years old) and is still relatively new to the position. At OSU he was less of a traditional inside linebacker and more of a LB/DB hybrid. He made flash plays in run defense, on the ball in coverage and attacking as a pass rusher which signal what kind of player he could develop into more consistently. But with that leap of faith is the risk he never develops into anything more than a sub-package player.

My expectation is that Lee will take a step forward but opportunity is going to lead to him being overrated by the fan base after this season. Inside linebacker is a position where volume statistics will come naturally if a player has a three-down role and the defense is on the field a lot. I expect Lee will be most encouraging when Bowles uses him in creative ways outside of the traditional inside linebacker mold, but good looking volume tackle stats will mask a player that will continue to struggle plugging the run in confined spaces.

Michael McLaughlin: The success of Deion Jones and the fact that more fans got to see him play due to the Falcons’ Super Bowl run has hurt Lee’s reputation. In reality, the first-round pick had a typical rookie year. He flashed some, but appeared to be a tick to slow often against the pass and run. As a second-year player, the expectation should be that he fills the hole faster, leading to more tackles for loss, and that he starts to defend some of the passes that were thrown just of his grasp last season. He should contribute roughly five sacks a year due to his speed. I would love to see him develop into a Thomas Davis. The Panther linebacker converted from safety as a rookie and plays at six-foot-one, 235 lbs. Lee has a long way to go to achieve the success of Davis, both on and off the field. Davis won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2015.

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Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports