The Green Bay Packers' list of needs for the 2016 offseason are pretty clear. Both linebacker positions are important areas for general manager Ted Thompson to address this spring. On the outside, Julius Peppers just turned 36 and is signed for one more season, while Mike Neal and Nick Perry are both scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March. Clay Matthews expected full-time return to the outside pass-rushing role will bolster that position, but depth is a concern.
On the inside, the Packers expect to have a young starting tandem of Sam Barrington and Jake Ryan, but both players have limitations in coverage and neither has spent a full season as an NFL starter.
Therefore, it is not surprising to see the inside linebacker position mentioned frequently in mock drafts as the Packers' pick at #27. This week, we have another example of this being the case, as SB Nation's Dan Kadar is for the second straight week projecting Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee as the Packers' selection. Here's what he has to say about that pick:
With Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion both getting locked up on new contracts, the Packers don't need to address defensive line in the first round. That turns the attention to middle linebacker. Lee isn't the biggest, but he makes up for it with speed and range.
Kadar nails it here - Lee stands a shade over 6'1" and his listed weight was 237 pounds. That size actually compares closely to Barrington's listed size (6'1", 240), and if Lee were to play the WILB position in Green Bay, his elite athleticism would be put to good use in coverage. At the Scouting Combine, Lee is expected to run the 40-yard dash in a time of 4.5 seconds or less, which would put him in elite company among NFL linebackers.
A redshirt sophomore, Lee is the kind of athlete whose physical abilities translate well to pass coverage skills. This in particular would make him an ideal partner with either Barrington or Ryan, both of whom are better players against the run at this point. Lee would likely be able to assume dime linebacker duties as well, taking over for Joe Thomas in that regard. Check out Lee's scouting report by Dave-Te Thomas for more nuggets like this on him:
He has the quickness to run with backs, tight ends and slot receivers in the short area and shows good vision, quickness and ball anticipation ... In man coverage, Lee has the quickness of a safety. He can turn and run with most tight ends and running backs. He looks natural maintaining position on the receiver when working underneath ... He can really drop back in zone coverage due to his loose hips and upper body flexibility.
Finally, Lee is also an adept blitzer, having racked up 11 sacks during his two years on the field for Ohio State. He appears to be the rare three-down linebacker that the Packers need, and if he is available at 27 there would be no reason to complain should Ted Thompson pull the trigger.