New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee has struggled so far in his career since being drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft. Here is how he stacks up against first-round linebackers over the past few years.
The New York Jets and team general manager Mike Maccagnan thought Darron Lee was the team’s future at the linebacker position when they drafted him 20th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. Well, Lee has yet to really make his presence known, and this has led some to believe he may be a bust.
The former Ohio State Buckeye had large shoes to fill. Well, he has seemingly underwhelmed and looked overmatched in his first two NFL seasons.
We all saw Lee’s inability to play inside, which seems to be attributed to his lack of aggression at times. However, he did have a solid comeback sophomore season for Gang Green.
Lee may not deserve all the bashing he finds himself subject to at times. Yes, Pro Football Focus has him ranked as a poor linebacker in 2017. Also, yes, tackle numbers don’t say everything about a player.
But, let’s take a look at all the linebackers drafted in the first-round since 2015 to see how Lee’s brief career fairs against others. Disclaimer: I am well aware that Lee was not in the NFL in 2015. I am going back as far as 2015 for comparison purposes.
Dante Fowler (3rd overall), Vic Beasley (8th overall), Bud Dupree (22nd overall), Shane Ray (23rd Overall), Shaq Thompson (25th overall) and Stephone Anthony (31st overall)
*Another disclaimer note: some of these players have since been moved to defensive end, or they split time between the two positions.*
The 2015 NFL Draft was a very linebacker heavy first-round. As is the case for most outside linebackers, most of these players are primarily used as pass-rushers.
Dante Fowler has racked up 12 sacks in his brief career, Shane Ray has 13, Bud Dupree has 14.5 and Vic Beasley has 24.5. Beasley is the only one with a Pro Bowl selection, which he got due to his 15.5 sack, All-Pro season in 2016.
You may be thinking that these players are far better than Lee. However, all four of them were also ranked as poor in 2017 by Pro Football Focus. Yes, some have been injured and have had longer careers, but the only player to really light it up was Beasley for one season.
Shaq Thompson seems to be the only one out of this bunch who has an edge on Lee. Pro Football Focus had him as an average linebacker in 2017. Stephone Anthony played decent his rookie year but hasn’t played much since.
lt’s hard to compare due to different playing styles, but it seems as though Thompson and Beasley are the only first-round linebackers from this draft who have performed at a high-level during parts of their careers.
Leonard Floyd (9th overall), Darron Lee (20th overall)
The 2016 NFL Draft, which was Lee’s draft, only had two true linebackers taken Round 1. Shaq Lawson of the Buffalo Bills was taken the pick before Lee, but he has moved from linebacker to defensive end now.
So, how does Lee compare to Leonard Floyd? Not so well. Like many outside linebackers, Floyd makes his living rushing the quarterback.
In only 22 career games, Floyd has 11.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus had him ranked as an average linebacker in 2017.
Floyd’s potential seems to be stunted due to his injury history. It may be safe to assume he could be even better if he can stay on the field.
Floyd has been more effective in less time than Lee. But, as was the case before, Lee falls victim to a tough comparison due to Floyd’s style.
Haason Reddick (13th overall), Jarrad Davis (21st overall), T.J. Watt (30th overall) and Reuben Foster (31st overall)
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Watt was rated as an average linebacker by Pro Football Focus. He was involved in many facets of the game, which can be seen in his stats.
But, it was Foster who rated as an elite linebacker. Yes, elite. He played very well in 10 games until he was found himself in the middle of legal issues.
Watt was far more active in the pass rush, and he obviously has football in his blood. Foster seems to be a tragic story of “what if?”, and one could say Lee has been better than Reddick and right there with Davis.
Next: Final Thoughts
The 2018 NFL Draft was another draft that saw a fair number of linebackers go in the first round. We have yet to see any of them play, therefore it wouldn’t be fair to say Lee is beneath any of them.
Of course, these comparisons go much deeper than Pro Football Focus 2017 rankings. Also, the most experience any of the players on this list have is three seasons.
Regardless, with all that being said, Lee hasn’t been outplayed by many of the first-round linebackers since 2015. Other than Foster’s rookie year and Beasley’s one All-Pro season, none of the mentioned players even sniffed elite level in their young careers.
We may all need to just relax and give Lee a bit of a break. Yes, there have been other productive linebackers taken in the later rounds. Although, the Jets aren’t the only team to pass on those guys.