Elijah Lee’s bags are packed and former Buck Buchanan Award winner is headed to the Minnesota Vikings rookie camp, where he hopes to make an impact and wipe aside a bit of the disappointment of being the 232nd player selected overall in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Lee was a star with the state champion Blue Springs Wildcats, and was named the Missouri Class 6 Defensive Player of the Year. After a brilliant career at Blue Springs, he played all 13 games as a true freshman at Kansas State, where he finished with 19 tackles and a freshman single-season record 4.5 sacks.
Lee was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore starter, leading the Wildcats with 80 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and accumulating five sacks and three interceptions. He continued to be a team leader in his final year with the program, topping the charts with 110 tackles (6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks), intercepting two passes and earning first-team All-Big 12 recognition.
Following that outstanding season, Lee declared his eligibility for the draft.
“I did it to support my family,” said Lee, who has spent the past few days in Blue Springs before heading for the Vikings training camp. “It was financial decision. I’d do anything to help my family and I felt like it was the right decision for both me and my family.”
Lee didn’t attend the NFL Combine because he said he missed the deadline after having declared for the draft in January. He did go through a workout at Kansas State’s pro day with Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, and he took a pre-draft visit to Minnesota.
“I liked everything about the Vikings, and I think they liked what they saw in me,” Lee said. “I’d heard I could go anywhere from the third to the fifth round in the draft, and when that didn’t happen I lost interest and turned off the TV.
“But I continued to follow it on social media. Then, about an hour or two later, I got a call from the Vikings and I was happy about it. I just feel like this story is going to go a long way.”
So does Vikings and Big 12 Conference football announcer Ben Leber, a former Vikings linebacker and standout at Lee’s alma mater, Kansas State.
“I think he’s really good,’’ Leber told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “I think the only reason why he probably didn’t get drafted higher was his size. He lacks ideal size for a linebacker, he’s a little on the leaner side. … But watching him play, the guy is a spitfire. He will run sideline to sideline. He looks for contact. He looks to deliver the blow.’’
Leber saw the 6-foot-2, 229-pound linebacker play three times last season as a Big 12 Fox television analyst, and he believes Lee could step into the position vacated when Chad Greenway retired.
“I really think that if they’re going to leave Eric Kendricks in the spot where’s he’s at in the middle, then Elijah can have an opportunity to play that weak-side spot where Chad was,’’ Leber told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. “I know it’s crazy to say that Lee could potentially start as a seventh-rounder, but I think that highly of him.”
Lee likes the way Leber thinks.
“I feel the same way,” Lee said. “I know it sounds a little crazy, having a seventh-round pick possibly become a starter, but my agent and I had a lot of conversations with the Vikings and I know they’re going to give me a chance. Now, I just have to make the most of it.”
This is what the Vikings say about Lee in their own draft analysis:
“Strengths: Possesses angular build with long arms. Won't just give in to size. Works hard to constrict running lanes and will fire downhill into the gaps when they present themselves. Showed off impressive long speed and closing burst when chasing down ball carriers against Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl. Squares up in the hole and meets running backs heads up. Productive and disruptive behind the line of scrimmage. Rangy. Shows ability to navigate both high and low in weaving through the bodies in his pursuit to the ball. Adequate awareness in space in man coverage. Has athleticism and ball skills to stay on the field for all three downs.
“Weaknesses: Missing the sand in his pants to power up and take on blocks effectively. Lacks instincts and feel for cutback lanes and counters. Can be goaded into false steps. Below average hand usage. Will need to learn to punch and separate or he could be overwhelmed by linemen. Plays too tall when sifting through the flow of traffic and will miss too many tackles. Needs to do better job of finding the ball in coverage. Too many ankle tackles rather than running through the target with a clean finish.”