<
>

Ohio State's Darron Lee understands Falcons' need for speed

Darron Lee ran a 4.43 in the 40 at this year's combine in Indianapolis, the fastest time by any linebacker in almost a decade. Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Former Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee didn't have an extended conversation with coach Dan Quinn when Lee met with a room full of Atlanta Falcons representatives during this year's NFL combine.

There was no need for it. Lee understood Quinn's message loud and clear from the minute the meeting started.

"He was a really cool dude; serious," Lee said of Quinn. "He was really trying to find guys with speed, and he made that clear. He made that absolutely clear. And I was like, 'Yeah, that's me.'"

Lee's blazing speed is one of the primary reasons the Falcons will conduct a private workout with the projected first-round draft pick Thursday. The 6-foot-1-inch, 232-pound Lee ran a 4.43 in the 40 at the combine, the fastest time by any linebacker in almost a decade.

The Falcons, owners of the 17th overall pick, have been projected by many to target Lee with that selection.

"To be quite honest with you, I don't really look at projections like that," Lee said. "I just hear from what people tell me. But speaking of Atlanta, I think it would be huge to be a part of that organization. They've got something going there. They want to win, and they want to win as soon as possible. They want to be able to compete with the Panthers, them being the NFC South champs.

"[The Falcons] just told me they needed some speed, some attitude, and some leadership. I like them, and I'm excited about the workout. And we'll go from there."

The Falcons need a fast linebacker capable of making plays from sideline to sideline; a guy capable of keeping up with the like of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen in coverage. There's a void at weak-side linebacker following the release of oft-injured veteran and second-leading tackler Justin Durant, although the Falcons re-signed their former first-round draft pick, Sean Weatherspoon, as insurance.

Lee, who has tremendous upside, was a former high school quarterback and a two-year starter at linebacker.

"He's a playmaker," said Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, also the team's linebackers coach. "He has a nasty, prick kind of side to him when he plays the game. He has the innate ability to find the football. He has that prick side to him because it's a tough game for tough people, and that's the gift he has. He plays pissed off. He's that guy that emotions flare. That's football. That makes you a hell of a lot better."

Fickell sees Lee thriving as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, although Lee played the strong-side spot for the Buckeyes. Last season, Lee had 66 tackles, 11 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks, an interception, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

"His greatest attributes is his confidence," Fickell said. "He is a highly self-confident kid that has no doubt he can do anything. He's got that invincible mentality, and that's a wonderful trait for a football player."

True to Fickell's point, Lee believes he can thrive at any linebacker spot.

"I can played [middle] or weakside," Lee said. "It will come to light that I'm a very, very fast learner. So I'm going to use that to my advantage. I'm going to take what Coach Fickell taught me here at Ohio State and apply that and being able to play fast."

Speed is his game, of course.