Darron Lee left Ohio State with a lot of promise. Last year he showed a lot of that promise, but that was about it. There were far too many times that he was out of position, over pursued or otherwise missed an assignment. In all honesty, Lee should be able to correct most if not all of those mistakes this season.
Last year, Lee appeared to rely too heavy on his athleticism. It is impressive. He can fly to anywhere on the field. In spite of that, it was apparent that he was thinking too much on the field. In particular, it was playing zone coverage.
/\ Lee believes his assignment is the inside slant because it crosses his zone – he is supposed to take the tight end who releases on delay on a wheel.
/\ Again, Lee is unsure which player is his responsibility – he takes the back, but that is Harris, he panics and begins to run with the up back, turning his hips/ chasing and allowing his assignment – the crosser to sneak by.
/\ Here Lee shows much better in man coverage. He knows his assignment is the tight end and has perfect coverage.
Part of this can also be attributed to the reliance on zone coverage the Jets had to undertake because of the regression of Darrell Revis. Going in to the season, the Jets intended to play much more man-to-man coverage. When things began to fall apart, the personnel did not match the scheme. It would be like trying to bail out a cruise ship taking on water with a paper cup. – That will be different this season.
That was his rookie season. He can develop and the stalwart of the Jets defense doesn’t see any issues. David Harris expects Lee show significant growth from last season. Via NYJets.com:
“I know the game is going to slow down for him, he’s going to start recognizing certain things out there on the field which he may not have seen last year. It was his first time seeing a lot of things.”
Unfortunately there were times at the end of the year where it seems Lee hadn’t learned some concepts that he would have seen early on. He will have to learn them this offseason and in camp or else the issues will repeat.
Before people write Lee off they should note the career path of a comparable linebacker – also from Ohio State: Ryan Shazier. Shazier left Ohio State as a hyper-athletic, speed demon linebacker, who was a little on the light side. In his rookie season, Shazier also struggled. From year one to year two, Shazier made a clear jump in play, doubling his tackles, registering 3.5 sacks and an interception. He is now a core component of the Steelers defense and one of the top playmaking linebackers in the NFL.
Lee should make the necessary adjustments in year two and bring the same value to the Jets defense that Shazier brings to the Steelers.