Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee is visiting with the Buffalo Bills Thursday night and Friday, a source said. One of the best linebacker prospects in the draft, Lee projects as an early-to-mid-first rounder and would certainly fit a major need in Buffalo’s defense.
After losing Nigel Bradham in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bills are searching for a new starter next to Preston Brown who was admittedly up and down himself in Year One under Rex Ryan.
The instinctive Lee, an agile, yet punchy 6-foot-1, 232 pounds, fits the mold of a 2016 NFL linebacker. Lee initially took over for 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier as a redshirt freshman to start 15 games. That season, Lee finished with 81 tackles (16.5 for loss) and 7.5 sacks as Ohio State won the national title. In the Sugar Bowl semifinal win against Alabama, Lee wreaked havoc with seven tackles (three for loss) and two sacks.
In 2015, Lee was equally disruptive with 66 tackles (11 for loss) and 4.5 sacks, earning second-team All Big Ten honors.
He lit up the NFL Scouting Combine, too. Lee topped all linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.47 seconds) and broad jump (11 feet, 1 inch) while also finishing third in the short shuttle (4.20 seconds) and fifth in the vertical (35.5 inches). Considering today’s offenses are always trying to match up receivers, backs and tight ends on linebackers one on one, Lee will be in high demand. Through Buffalo’s December swoon, opposing tight ends were a major problem.
Now, over a two-day span, Buffalo’s coaches will get a better sense of Lee’s game.
“Linebackers are changing in the league, to be honest – a lot smaller,” Lee said at the Combine. “There aren’t really too many bigger guys. The game is getting faster and you need guys to cover. You’re starting to see that change a lot this year in the league.
“It’s more of a passing league and the quarterback is getting the ball out quicker and making linebackers run. That’s all I know. That’s all I’ve been seeing on Sundays.”
Thus, a body type like Lee would seem to make more sense next to Brown than, say, Alabama’s rugged Reggie Ragland. Brown, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 251 pounds, has a very, very similar build to Ragland (6-1, 247), who ran the 40 in 4.72 seconds. And more teams may look to employ hybrid linebackers such as Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals, a safety at Washington State. In Buffalo’s 3-4, Lee would likely be the weak-side inside linebacker asked to cover more acreage.
Lee is confident he could move inside after playing outside at Ohio State. Playing quarterback in high school, he believes, would help the transition.
“When quarterbacks do little subtle things,” Lee said. “Picking up on those is a lot easier for me than say the next guy. And some of the stuff I did as a quarterback, being agile and being able to move, that helps with playmaking on the defensive side of the ball.”
Brown vowed he’d be speaking up a lot more in 2016. He’s planning to come out of his shell, take charge, and run Ryan’s defense with more conviction. He’s also confident the Bills will find him the right partner in crime at inside linebacker, too.
“A lot of people think you get better in free agency, but I think we’ve gotten a lot better in the draft in recent years,” Brown said. “We definitely have good guys scouting and the GM is amazing. So I’m sure we’ll have guys plug in and we’ll be a good defense.
“I don’t know who they’re going to get and I honestly don’t care. I know they’re going to make good decisions because everybody they draft comes in here and finds a role. I’m sure they’re going to find a linebacker or whoever else we need back there to make this thing work.”
One option is now visiting Western New York.