Elijah Lee was a value pick for the Vikings and provides more depth in the linebacker room. Daniel Houses discusses how Lee will fit in the Vikings' defense.
Updated: June 28, 2017 5:30 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
Speed, length, and range are three words to describe Vikings' seventh round pick Elijah Lee.
The 6-foot-3, 228-pound linebacker brings length and athleticism to a position group searching for depth as Chad Greenway retired and Audie Cole exited in free agency. The Vikings added value at a position of need when they drafted Lee in the seventh round. Many experts had Lee projected to land in the fourth or fifth round, but he slid down the draft board due to physical concerns. He posted 110 tackles and two interceptions, earning first-team All Big-12 honors last season. Lee provides athleticism and above average coverage skills to a linebacker corps in need of a weakside linebacker to step up. He likely won't see playing time immediately, but his athleticism and tackling abilities will be a major asset on special teams.
As I noted, Lee does a great job of moving down the field and covering tight ends up the seam. The clip below shows Lee perfectly rotating his hips and getting his hands into the passing lane, forcing an incompletion. His long arms allow him to pick up a high amount of pass deflections. He can match up with more athletic pass catchers because he has a nice blend of length and speed. Lee sometimes has trouble tracking passes, which can be problematic. If he could turn his head and make a play on the ball, there would be plentiful opportunities for him to haul in interceptions. Most importantly, he is in position to make plays on a consistent basis.
Lee has a tendency to make extremely difficult interceptions look easy. He will haul in a concentration grab like the one in the clip below, but has a tendency to drop passes he is unable to track. I saw this numerous times during trips through his film. Nonetheless, his coverage skills are what separate himself from many linebackers. He can drop into the second level and pick up pass deflections on a consistent basis.
The real flaw in his game is against the run. He struggles to shed blocks and needs to add more power to pull off of them. When he gets out in space, he'll make the stop by breaking down and being fundamentally sound. He sometimes gets too far up the field, which washes him out of plays. Not to mention, he doesn't stay low and blockers get him off balance in traffic. He'll need to get stronger at the NFL level to match up with larger offensive lineman.
Lee has fantastic closing speed and will deliver a big hit as he sprints sideline-to-sideline. It is very rare to find a player with length who can run well sideline-to-sideline. He fits the mold of linebackers the Vikings currently have on their roster. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are extremely athletic and move well in space. With Edmond Robinson already on the roster, he is the favorite to win the weakside starting linebacker job. Nonetheless, it's not a stretch to say Lee couldn't improve his skill-set and steal the starting gig in 2018.
The clip below shows Lee's closing speed and ability to deliver a strong hit to a running back seeking the edge. This type of athleticism will allow Lee to be a potential three-down starting linebacker in the future. Not to mention, he does a great job of getting into the gaps, staying squared, and making running stops. He doesn't take poor angles or plod into the hole. If Lee could add more weight to pair with his explosion, he could take his game to the next level. I think using his hands more might help him shed blocks in the running game too.
The real beauty of a player like Lee is his ability to be rangy. He can backpedal into coverage and react to a play quick. If the quarterback decides to fire a pass out of a play-fake, he will be in position. However, if it's a rushing play, Lee can sprint across the line of scrimmage to lower his shoulder and make a stop. He plays very smooth and is a reliable tackler when he drives through running backs. The clip below is a perfect example of how Lee can perform against quality competition. He delivers a massive hit on running back Joe Mixon as he explodes and lowers his shoulder. Lee is a very quick-twitch player in everything he does.
He plays in sudden bursts and will need to smooth out the rough edges of his game in the NFL. He also must add more weight and strength to his upper frame in order to handle the physicality. Lee has all of the athleticism to develop into an option within the base 4-3 defense. To make the team, he'll need to show he can provide value on special teams during training camp. If he can, he might bring more value than veteran Emmanuel Lamur, who hasn't flashed an ability to fit in the defensive system.
Lee has developmental potential, but will likely serve as an active special teams contributor in 2017.