There’s a chance linebacker Elijah Lee could have improved his NFL Draft stock by returning to Kansas State for his senior season. He knows that.
But the former Blue Springs star also knows that, in his heart, it was right time for him to leave Manhattan. And in the end, that’s what he leaned on in January when he decided to declare after a junior season in which he led the Wildcats with 110 tackles (6 1/2 for loss) and made all-Big 12.
“Right now, it was going to happen sooner or later,” said Lee, whose name has been bandied about as a mid-to-late round pick. “I wanted the opportunity. My decision came down to family and gut feeling and the feedback I got — I had a lot of positive feedback from teams.
“It was one of those things I couldn’t wait out.”
It was not a decision he took lightly, obviously. It was one he says he made after doing his research on his draft stock.
“I had connections as far as talking with players and getting good feedback from scouts,” Lee said. “They told me it only takes one team to fall in love with you.”
Lee — who checks in at 6 feet 2 1/2 and 229 pounds — believes that team is out there, too, despite the fact he was not invited to the NFL Combine, which certainly isn’t ideal for a potential draftee. Still, that has not kept him from receiving plenty of predraft interest from teams.
Over the past month, he’s visited the San Francisco 49ers, and this week, he visited the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s also worked out for the Detroit Lions, had dinner with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, and says he was supposed to work out for the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys, but those workouts conflicted with previously schedule visits.
Lee was also invited to attend the Chiefs’ local pro day on April 7, but he says it conflicted with his 49ers visit. He also says the Minnesota Vikings — who also scheduled a vsit with him — are the team that’s probably shown the most interest in him.
“Just running sideline-to-sideline — that’s what a lot of teams have talked to me about, saying I’ll be covered up by the three-tech and will be a run-and-chase linebacker,” Lee said. “My strengths are running to the ball, flying around and hitting. I might not be the biggest guy in the box but can hold my own.”
Both 3-4 and 4-3 teams have shown interest in him, which gives him hope he can be a third- or fourth-round pick.
“A lot of teams had fourth-round grades on me,” said Lee, who played in a 4-3 at Kansas State.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said that sounds about right.
“When he was supported by an interior presence, he could make some plays,” Kiper said. “I have a fifth-round grade on him.”
Lee, obviously, might have improved that grade had he returned to school. But he says Kansas State coach Bill Snyder understood why he made his choice, and Lee is looking forward to seeing how it turns out when the draft starts Thursday.
“He understood my situation, (though) some of the coaches weren’t happy with the decision,” Lee said. “But you never know what’s going to happen next week, so I’m excited.”
ELIJAH LEE’S DRAFT PROFILE
Measurables: 6-3, 229, 21 years old
2016 stats: 13 games, 110 tackles (6 1/2 for loss), 1 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, three pass deflections, one forced fumble
Pro Day numbers: 4.72 40-yard dash, 18 bench press reps, 38-inch vertical jump, 122-inch broad jump, 4.37 20-yard shuttle, 7.05 three-cone drill
2017 NFL Draft
Round 1: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 27
Rounds 2-3: 6 p.m. Friday, April 28
Rounds 4-7: 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29
2017 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: INSIDE LINEBACKERS
What Chiefs GM John Dorsey says: “In this year’s draft, I think there are some very talented individuals. I think that not only spans from the top, but it goes down into the fourth and the fifth rounds as well. So, I think there are some pretty good players in this draft at that particular position.”
Chiefs’ need at this position: Medium. The Chiefs’ interior run defense was substandard last season, even before star inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was lost for the year due to an Achilles injury. Johnson is optimistic he’ll be ready for the first day of training camp, and the Chiefs have four young players they like at the position, including Justin March-Lillard, Ramik Wilson, Terrence Smith and special teams-maven D.J. Alexander. But the Chiefs could use another body to fortify this position in the draft, though — for the millionth time — they don’t value this position as high as other teams and might not be willing to invest a first-round pick in one, unless the player is special.
OL: Pro day performance caps fun two days for Missouri Western’s Travis Anderson | rankings, to come
EDGE: K-State’s Jordan Willis has worked his way into first-round discussion | rankings, to come
ILB: K-State linebacker Elijah Lee is betting on himself in NFL Draft | rankings, to come
CB: Confident, deep crop of rookie corners should be enticing for Chiefs | rankings, to come
S: Pitt State’s Deron Washington carries on NFL dream for family | rankings, to come
Terez A. Paylor, email@example.com