Sean Lee is exactly who Rob Ryan wants to lead his defense.
The Dallas Cowboys' war room was very active during the 2010 NFL Draft. They made the move to trade up for the talented but troubled Dez Bryant, but perhaps their best move of the draft was for inside linebacker Sean Lee. When the Cowboys traded the 59th and 125th overall picks to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 55th overall pick, they saw the immense talent that Lee has. The Eagles really needed a linebacker at the time, and you have to wonder if they regret passing on Lee considering they play him twice a year now.
At first glance, the trade to move up and select the Penn State linebacker wasn't supported by most of the Cowboys' fan base. You couldn't blame some fans for reacting to the Cowboys passing on a safety or drafting an injured player, but Lee was well worth the risk.
Wade Phillips was reluctant to insert Lee into his starting defense as a rookie. Lee battled injuries during his rookie season, but by the end of the year it was clear that he was the best inside linebacker on the team. When the Cowboys hired Rob Ryan to become the defensive coordinator, it was only a matter of time before Lee had a breakout season.
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You can make a good argument that Sean Lee was one of the best inside linebackers in the league last year. Even though Lee was just in his second season, he led the Cowboys with 105 tackles. Lee also had 4 interceptions on the year, which tied him with Terence Newman for the most on the team. Rob Ryan had no problem inserting Lee as a starting linebacker on his defense, and Lee rose to the occasion.
So how much better can Sean Lee actually get? It wouldn't surprise me to see him receive All-Pro considerations because he truly has that type of talent. Former Cowboys player personnel director Gil Brandt is a legend. He is considered to be the "Godfather of the NFL Draft", and he completely changed the way NFL teams approach scouting. Brandt believes that Lee is well on his way to playing at a Pro Bowl.
"In my estimation, he's a Pro Bowler. He can be this year," Brandt said. "There's not enough good things to say about him. I think Sean Lee is one of the best draft choices they've ever made around here."
In this Star-Telegram article written by Jimmy Burch, Brandt also compares Lee to former Cowboys great Lee Roy Jordan. Jordan played from 1963-1976, which is a little before my time, but the comparison just goes to show you that Lee has the potential to become a great football player.
Rob Ryan sees a lot of former New England Patriot Tedy Bruschi in Lee, and that is a great comparison because Bruschi was one of the best linebackers in the league during his prime.
"He's in there every day. It'll be just us coaches and him," Ryan said. "No one cares more than he does. I think there's one Sean Lee in this league for the commitment that he has. He reminds me of the great Tedy Bruschi, who was one-of-a-kind himself."
One of the reasons I like Lee so much is because of the type of person he is. Lee is one of the most humble athletes I have ever seen, and he was quick to downplay the comparison to Bruschi.
"To be compared to him, it's an honor. But I don't think I'm close to it yet," said Lee, who makes the Cowboys' defensive calls. "I need to play a lot more. I need to make a lot more plays and we've got to start winning. We've got to win Super Bowls. That's a guy who won Super Bowls and is a Hall of Fame type of guy."
That is just the type of person Sean Lee is, humble, and that is a rare characteristic to see in a young football player. Lee is one of the most motivated players on the Cowboys. He spends a lot of time at Valley Ranch working out and watching film, but his approach towards the game is infectious. His teammates are going to see how hard he works, and that has to be a great motivational tool for the Dallas Cowboys.
Said running DeMarco Murray. "He's a football junkie. I try to be on his hip. I watched film with him yesterday just to see what he's looking at. I have a lot of respect for him."
That right there tells me that Sean Lee is one of the best influences on the team. Players are not only respecting what Lee does on the field, but they are paying close attention to how he approaches and prepares for the game. If DeMarco Murray is paying close attention to Lee, I hope the rest of the defense does the same and learns that hard work pays off.
Jason Garrett has been highly supportive of Lee since being named the head coach. Lee is the "RKG" that Garrett is always talking about, and his recent comments about Lee suggest that.
"He has such determination in everything he does every day," Garrett said. "Just watch him. Watch him in meetings if you ever get a chance to do that. This guy is locked in and focused. It's really, really important to him. He cares about it. He cares about getting better. He cares about our football team. It's one thing to care about it. It's another thing to show that care, and he does that in everything he does."
You can't take anything away from DeMarcus Ware. While Ware may be the best defensive player in the game, Lee is starting to make his case as the most important player on the Dallas defense. The middle linebacker usually is the leader of the defense, and I think we are going to see Lee thrive in that role.
Lee will be entering just his third season, but he has the mentality of a 10-year veteran. If he stays healthy, he could challenge Patrick Willis for All-Pro considerations. Lee may not be on the same level as Willis athletically, but I believe that Lee can have the same type of impact Willis has had in San Francisco. Lee puts up great statistics, which should rise if he stays healthy and plays a full 16 game schedule, but his importance to the Cowboys goes way beyond the numbers he puts up.
One area the Cowboys have definitely improved on, as far as scouting goes, is the linebacker position. Sean Lee changed that, and remember they were very high on NaVorro Bowman, who happened to be a teammate with Lee at Penn State. If Bruce Carter can be anything like Bowman, then the Cowboys defense will be set at inside linebacker for a very long time.