4/27/16: Sources with teams picking in the middle of the first round say that Lee is in consideration for their pick. He looks like a safe bet to be selected on Thursday night.
At the combine, Lee showed his speed with an electric 40-yard time. He also did well in the field drills, dropping smoothly into coverage. Clearly, Lee has a lot of athletic upside to develop for the NFL. With his speed and athleticism, he looks like a future three-down starter. His best fit would come as a Will (weakside) linebacker in a 4-3 defense. In speaking with sources, some teams feel that Lee is more of a second-round talent, but they expect him to go late in Round 1.
In 2015, Lee recorded 66 tackles with 11 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two passes broken up, two forced fumbles and one interception - returned 41 yards for a touchdown. He had a fast start to the season before slowing down late in the year. Perhaps he was protecting his draft stock from injury.
8/24/15: Lee was Ohio State's replacement for Ryan Shazier in 2014, and while Lee wasn't as good as Shazier, Lee had a superb debut for the Buckeyes with plenty of upside to make strides in the future. The first-year starter recorded 81 tackles with 16.5 tackles for a loss, three passes broken up, two interceptions and 7.5 sacks. He finished the year strongly, including a big game against Alabama with seven tackles, three tackles for a loss and two sacks. The athletic Lee could be even better as he gains more experience.
Lee's never been short on confidence, proclaiming to teammates that he was the one to take over for 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier in the Buckeyes' defense -- even though he was only a year removed from starring as a quarterback and cornerback in high school. He wound up starting all 15 games in that redshirt freshman year for the national champion Buckeyes, earning multiple Freshman All-American accolades with 81 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Lee truly hit the national stage by terrorizing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, receiving Defensive MVP honors with seven tackles, three for loss, and two sacks. His play as a sophomore was just as good, tracking down ball carriers 66 times, 11 for a loss and 4.5 sacks on his way to second-team All-Big Ten accolades from league coaches (third team media).
STRENGTHSQuick to diagnose and flow to the ball. Has unusual ability to find the most efficient routes to the ball. Has athleticism and flexibility to contort his body and succeed through difficult tackle angles. Plays with loose hips, quick feet and desired agility of an NFL weak-side linebacker. Former high school quarterback with the change of direction and speed to be a rangy playmaker. Comfortable in space and excels there. Has plus man cover talent. Willing to stand in and take on blockers with a leveraged strike if his gap is being threatened. Capable gap blitzer with ability to get skinny through the holes.
WEAKNESSESSmallish linebacker. Play strength doesn't come close to matching puffed up listed weight. Balance issues at point of attack could plague him over his NFL career. Has the body type of a big safety. Tape shows few authoritative tackles. Involved in too many arm and shoestring tackles. Comes flying in and fails to come to balance at times. Charged with 21 missed and five broken tackles over the last two seasons. Always at size disadvantage and will have to learn to slip more blocks. Can get better at finding targets in zone coverage.
DRAFT PROJECTIONRound 1
BOTTOM LINELee's level of NFL success might very well be tied to scheme fit and his ability to add more muscle to his frame. His athletic traits and ability to make plays should make him a starter, but he won't unlock his full potential unless he gets strong enough to handle the rigors of an NFL linebacker.
After starting his Buckeye career at safety, he added muscle and moved to linebacker during his redshirt year, taking over for the departed Ryan Shazier at SAM linebacker in 2014 - played the "walkout" linebacker role so he was asked to cover, blitz and consistently play in space.
He redshirted as a scout team linebacker and safety in 2013 before earning the strong-side linebacker job as a redshirt freshman in 2014, filling the shoes of Ryan Shazier. Lee tallied 81 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions, earning Defensive MVP honors in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
He started all 13 games in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore, finishing with 66 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks to earn Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
Explosive tackler and doesn't need a runway, striking low and leading with his shoulder. Performs with an instant reactor and diagnoses play speed well. Quick-minded, recognizing tendencies and play-calling trends.
Smooth hips to turn and run in coverage. Agile pass rusher to blitz, stunt and loop. Adequate bulk and has worked hard to fill out his frame (was a 195-pound high school senior). Self-assured presence on and off the field with a competitive swagger that seems to shine when the lights are the brightest.
Versatile experience as a blitzer, run defender and cover man - often lined up across from the slot receiver in coverage. Durable and started every game the past two seasons with consistent production. Will contribute right away on special teams.
WEAKNESSES: Leaner-than-ideal features for the position with a narrow torso and maxed out build. Physical mindset with pop in his hands, but lacks ideal play strength to consistently unglue himself from blocks. Stonewalled and engulfed by offensive linemen and needs to improve his take-on technique to stay clean and gain body position.
Overaggressive and will over-run angles. Needs to better come to balance and break down on the move. Needs to mix up his moves and show a better plan as a blitzer. Needs to eliminate the dumb, avoidable penalties (roughing, facemask, etc.).
Only two full seasons at the linebacker position and still learning different nuances of the position. Doesn't have an indestructible body type.
IN OUR VIEW: Lee is a fantastic athlete with long arms and aggressive hands, but needs to develop his functional strength to consistently stack and shed at the line of scrimmage and keep himself clean. Although he is still young in linebacker years, he is a high character competitor, playing with sky-high confidence and natural football instincts to pick things up quickly. In the mold of Ryan Shazier or Kwon Alexander, Lee is a versatile run-and-hit linebacker with an attacking mind-set that fits today's NFL.
COMPARES TO: Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Their size and take-on skills aren't strengths, but Lee compares to Alexander as rangy run-and-hit defenders who can excel in today's NFL.
--Dane Brugler (2/13/16)