The Kansas City Chiefs have added linebacker Darron Lee via trade.
Lee joins a position group in Kansas City that currently includes 11 other linebackers. So where exactly does he fit among that group?
The Chiefs didn’t draft a linebacker, but they added a few undrafted free agents. One of those players, Darius Harris, is dealing with a shoulder injury and might not be ready to play this season. Still the philosophy behind the moves they made were pretty simple.
“Well, we didn’t draft a linebacker early on,” Veach said following the draft. “So we kind of targeted guys and we were aggressive with those guys because we wanted to make sure we were creating as much competition as we can.”
So the Chiefs brought in players to create a more competitive environment for a linebacker group that underachieved in 2018. Lee is no different from the earlier additions. He is going to add an element of competition and work to earn a starting job right away.
Lee will likely play WLB in the Chiefs’ 4-3 base scheme. He could probably play MLB in a pinch, and SLB on occasion, but at 230 pounds he might struggle to hold up and disengage from blockers. He needs to be in the role which will best utilize his 4.4 speed, which is the WLB seek and destroy linebacker position. He could also potentially have an impact when the Chiefs go into different sub-package groupings.
The Chiefs would have you believe that Lee is set to compete with Anthony Hitchens, who they’ve stated would play WLB in their new scheme. I am under the impression that Hitchens is penciled in at MLB. Lee will come in and compete directly against second-year player Dorian O’Daniel, undrafted free agent Gary Johnson and practice squad LB Raymond Davison. Keep in mind that O’Daniel struggled to pick up Bob Sutton’s scheme in 2018 and is coming off calf and ankle injuries.
The NFL is increasingly becoming about mismatches in man coverage. Having a linebacker with the speed to match up with shifty backs out of the backfield or in man coverage over the slot on a tight end is extremely valuable. It gives the scheme a lot of flexibility when it comes to coverage and personnel groupings.
In 2018, Lee finished as one of the premiere coverage linebackers in the NFL. His 84.8 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, was good for fourth in the NFL for the 2018 season. He notched a career high of five passes defended and a career high of three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
Lee wasn’t used much in the blitz game during the 2018 season, but in his two seasons prior he recorded four sacks and nine quarterback hits. His speed makes him an asset getting after the quarterback on designed blitzes, but he also has the closing speed to blitz on a delay when the quarterback is forced to improvise. Steve Spagnuolo likes to send pressure from a bunch of different spots, so expect him to utilize Lee’s prowess as a blitzer to his advantage.