Mike Maccagnan and the front office of the New York Jets hedged their bets on LB Darron Lee in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
By Robby Sabo
Is he a quarterback, like Memphis’s Paxton Lynch? No.
Is he an edge rusher like Clemon’s Shaq Lawson, the guy Rex Ryan snagged one pick prior? No.
What Ohio State’s Darron Lee is, however, is a damn good football player. One who was constantly overlooked and underrated through his two-year standout career for Urban Meyer; and one who’ll bring athleticism and extraordinary football sense to the next level.
Mike Maccagnan had an interesting choice at No. 20 of the 2016 NFL Draft. Lynch was still available, who would up going six picks later to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. UCLA’s Myles Jack was also up for grabs (thanks to his severe injury concerns).
Cool, calm and collected, Mikey Mac took the best overall “football player.” He took the best overall talent, and much like last season, when he selected USC’s Leonard Williams, he didn’t care much about scheme.
Lee isn’t a pure edge rusher. He isn’t a big, classic outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. While he sure can rush the passer, that’s not what he is.
At 6’1” and 232 lbs., this kid is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. He’s new-age prototypical WILL backer in a 4-3 NFL scheme.
What this signals is the end of a pure 3-4 schemed era for Todd Bowles.
In 2015 we saw it very frequently. Although Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson were already in tow, Maccagnan graciously accepted the gift that was Leonard Williams. This meant Bowles would need to squeeze three defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme that only allows two to be played.
Thanks to the situation, Bowles played a ton of hybrid fronts. He’d often use a four-man front, especially in sub-packages (in getting all three guys on the field). We’d often see Big Mo lined up on the edge.
Here’s how the front-seven could be lined up at this very moment:
- LDE: Muhammad Wilkerson
- LDT: Leonard Williams / Steve McLendon
- RDT: Sheldon Richardson / Jarvis Jenkins
- RDE: Lorenzo Mauldin / Trevor Reilly
- SAM: Bruce Carter / Trevor Reilly
- MLB: David Harris
- WILL: Darron Lee
This is an extremely athletic front-seven.
The first question would surround whether or not Lorenzo Mauldin is heavy enough to handle a pure 4-3 edge spot. That aside, the look works perfectly. Wilkerson is also a very heavy end in a 4-3, but could get it done (especially with the lighter end on the other side offsetting the front).
When Damon Harrison was lost to the New York Giants, all 350 lbs. of him, the Jets didn’t go out and sign a classic nose tackle. Instead, they opted for the lighter Jenkins and McLendon.
That signaled a philosophy change right off the bat. Now with Lee in the fold, and the idea of trading Wilkerson all but gone, the 4-3 change is almost complete.
Will Bowles always tinker with a 3-4? Of course. He still has the personnel and loves to call himself a “hybrid front defensive mind.”
What Lee provides is athleticism, confidence, and a ton of football IQ. Perhaps his greatest strength is how quickly he diagnoses plays.
Lee red-shirted his freshman year and started for two unbelievable seasons for Urban Meyer. All he did in those seasons was collect 146 tackles (27 for loss), 11 sacks, three interceptions, five pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, one touchdown, and earn second-team All Big Ten accolades in 2015. He was also named the defensive MVP in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama during his first season for the Buckeyes.
Make no mistake, Lee is a smallish linebacker. His incredible 4.47 40-yard dash at the linebacker spot should easily tell the story on how much he relies on his speed. In fact, in high school he stared as a quarterback and wide receiver.
What the Jets did in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL Draft was the same thing the new regime did during their rookie season. They took the best overall player and decided to go with the flow.
This means Maccagnan has accepted his fate of Big Mo staying the franchise and Bowles moving into the inevitable direction of using a four-man front on a permanent basis.
This was a solid draft pick for the Jets all the way around.
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) April 29, 2016