The Jets have struggled to infuse speed and athleticism into their linebacking core for years. When they decided to take Darron Lee from Ohio State 20th overall last year, he was supposed to be the solution. Known as a fast, athletic backer in Ohio, he blew up the combine with several impressive performances. Although at 6'1 and 232lb's he was a little undersized to play inside for a Bowles defense that partnered him with David Harris. Regardless I was pretty excited that the Jets were finally getting some speed.
On the eye test, I thought he had some good games and some bad games. He did some good things and he certainly did some bad things, however to me it was a solid start. His coverage was at times shaky, and he sometimes took some bad angles to the football, but he was a rookie and lots of rookie linebackers would struggle in their first year.
The statistics suggest otherwise.
According to the folks over at Pro Football Focus, Darron Lee was the worst performing linebacker from the 2016 NFL draft. He struggled in all areas and was close to abysmal in coverage. QB's had a 132.9 rating when throwing into his coverage in 2016, that's bad...that's really bad. Playing in 13 games, Lee totalled 73 tackles and 1 sack..well two half sacks really, credited against the Chiefs in week 3 and the Rams in week 10. There were questions about his tackling coming into the NFL and he largely failed to answer them in his rookie year.
Lets not forget that this is quite the change for Lee who largely played at the OLB position in Ohio where 45% of his snaps came from the slot. The Jets are basically teaching him how to play ILB on the fly, with the hope that his athletic ability and instincts will enable him to eventually take over from David Harris as the QB of the defense.
He missed three games for the Jets after injuring his ankle against the Cardinals in week six, and although he played against the Rams in week 10, he didn't look 100% healthy until after the bye week, facing the Patriots in week 12.
There is no question that Lee needs to improve, however the Jets also need to figure out how best to utilise his speed, especially getting after the QB. Lee struggled when he was matched up against big bodied tight ends, which isn't surprising considering his smaller stature.
It's too early to predict how Lee will develop, but he really does have to improve in year two, otherwise we'll be complaining next year of another wasted 1st round selection.