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NY Jets Spotlight: Darron Lee

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Fate seems to be forcing the Jets' hand in featuring Darron Lee. Ready or not, Lee's the next man up.

Larry French/Getty Images

Welcome to the Jets Spotlight.   Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today's player in the spotlight is rookie linebacker Darron Lee.  Lee  is a 21 year old, 6' 1", 232 pound inside linebacker out of Ohio State University.  He was drafted by the New York Jets in the first round as the 20th overall selection of the 2016 NFL draft.

In the 2016 offseason Jets head coach Todd Bowles expressed a need for the team to get faster and more athletic.  Lee is Exhibit A of the team's attempt to do so.  Lee is freakishly fast, running a 4.43 40. What really sets him apart is his initial burst; straight line, making plays downhill, attacking the quarterback or the ball carrier, his burst is special.  As long as he doesn't get caught up in traffic, that burst should result in a high percentage of tackles for loss.  He can burst through a seam or around the edge too quickly for the blocker to respond, and get to his target untouched.  This shows up on tape and in his statistics, where more than 26% of his tackles at Ohio State were behind the line of scrimmage.  If he can be kept fairly clean by the big guys on the defensive line Lee has the chance to be a big time playmaker.

Lee's speed should also be useful in doing something the Jets have had trouble with in the recent past: covering backs in pass patterns out of the backfield.  Lee, in theory, should hold up well in coverage with his elite speed and athleticism.  I'm not convinced his tape shows great coverage ability, but with Giovani Bernard, an outstanding pass catcher out of the backfield, on tap for the first game of the year, we may find out quickly just how capable Lee is in pass coverage.

Darron Lee is a rookie so he has no NFL statistics, but here are his college statistics.  As you can see he filled up a stat sheet, doing a little bit of everything:

Year

Tackles

Tackles

For

Loss

Sacks

Interceptions

Passes

Defended

Forced

Fumbles

.

2014

80

16

6.5

2

3

1

2015

66

11

4.5

1

2

2

The Jets initial plan was probably to ease Lee into NFL play, gradually increasing his responsibilities as he showed himself capable.  But, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men... The season opener finds the Jets a bit beat up at linebacker.  Fellow rookie Jordan Jenkins is doubtful for the game, and inside linebackers David Harris and Bruce Carter are questionable.  It may be that both Harris and Carter play and Lee becomes a bit player on Sunday.  But there is a distinct possibility Lee is prematurely thrust into a major role at inside linebacker, and it is sink or swim time.  This could be an unexpected coming out party for Darron Lee.  He has the potential to make game changing plays behind the line of scrimmage.  He has the potential to stay with any NFL back out of the backfield.  He has the potential to be a terror in blitz packages.  But potential is a fickle thing.  Potential realized is an awesome sight to behold.  Potential unrealized is a sickening disappointment.

Darron Lee's potential is very real and very exciting.  He could in theory be a force in all kinds of roles, a brilliant chess piece to move around at will and create mismatches.  That's one possibility, though far from an inevitability .  On Sunday we may begin to find out how likely that possibility is.  No doubt this wasn't the plan.  No doubt the Jets would have preferred to bring Lee along gradually, get his feet wet in a few sub packages while still learning the NFL game. It could still work out that way, if Harris and Carter are good to go.  On the other hand, if Harris and Carter can't answer the bell, Lee will be thrown in the deep end of the pool, and it will be sink or swim in an important game against a quality opponent with a difficult test in Bernard right out of the gate.

Welcome to the NFL Darron Lee. The spotlight's on you today.  I hope it isn't too bright too soon.