Name: Sean Lee
Position: Inside linebacker
Size: 6-2, 245 Age: 25
College: Penn State
Drafted: Second round, 55th overall in 2010
Experience: Entering third season
Contract status: He is halfway through his four-year, $3.49 million rookie contract. Lee’s base salary is $540,000 this season and his cap hit to the club is $840,000.
2011 review: It can be argued that Lee’s impact on the defense was equal to or greater than DeMarcus Ware’s. Lee ended Bradie James’ six-year reign as the team’s leading tackler. Not only did his 131 tackles lead the Cowboys, it was 52 tackles beyond safety Abe Elam, who finished second.
Lee’s incessant study habits paid off. He tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss with eight. He tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. He tied for the team lead in fumble recoveries with two. He tied for third in passes knocked down with eight.
Lee consistently put himself in a position to make plays whether it was the run game or pass game and displayed a natural feel for the position.
2011 grade: A
Outlook in 2012: Lee has established himself as a cornerstone of this defense. Look for him to build on what he did last season and become even more of a vocal leader.
What Lee did last season shows he’s worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. He is a rising star in this league and can confirm that status with another strong season in 2012.
He is the son of Craig Lee and Geralyn Lee of Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania. Lee’s older brother Conor was the placekicker for the University of Pittsburgh and his sister Alexandra was a student athlete at Upper St. Clair High School. Sean is also a grandson of Federal Judge Donald J. Lee of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Lee was a multi-sport star at Upper St. Clair High School outside Pittsburgh, he was a three-year starter at point guard in basketball, averaging 21.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists as a senior, and winning a district title. In football, Lee rushed for 1,240 yards and 21 touchdowns while registering 95 tackles and four picks as a safety for an 11-1 squad his senior year.
A 2005 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School in Upper St. Clair Township, Pennsylvania. Lee went on to play college football at Penn State. Heading into 2008, Lee was a starting outside linebacker for coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions for two consecutive seasons. In his junior year he was 2nd team all Big Ten, finishing second on the team in tackles with 138. He had a season high 17 tackles versus Illinois, and registered more than 10 tackles in all but three games. He also had two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the season.
In April 2008, Lee tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a non-contact drill at spring practice. Despite being forced to take a medical redshirt for the 2008 season, Lee’s teammates elected him a team captain that season. While rehabbing, he opted to serve as an undergraduate assistant coach, participating in every practice and wearing a headset on the sidelines during games that season.
Lee was again elected team captain by his teammates prior to the 2009 season.
College awards and honors
- 2007 Alamo Bowl Defensive MVP
- Third-team Athlon Sports pre-season All-Big Ten
- Second-team Sporting News pre-season All-Big Ten Six Nittany Lions Named To The Sporting News’ All-Big Ten Team
- He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after his effort in the Florida International game on September 1, 2007, and again following Penn State’s 31-6 victory over Temple on September 19, 2009.
- He was named Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week with Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis following his efforts in the Purdue game on November 3, 2007
Prior to the draft, draft analyst Mike Mayock was quoted saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if he snuck in late in the first round. If he doesn’t, I think he’s going to go in the front half of the second round. He’s too good.”
Lee was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 55th overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. After the draft, Wade Phillips said that he thought Lee could play both inside linebacker positions (“Mike” & “Mo”) in the Cowboys 3–4 defense. Lee was bothered by nagging injuries in training camp, in doing so failed to see a lot of action on the field.
He did earn NFC Defensive Player of the Week and Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honors for his December 5, 2010, performance versus Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, in which he recorded the first two interceptions of his pro career—including one he returned for a touchdown, and one in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal.
Promoted to starting inside linebacker in 2011, Lee thrived immediately in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme. In the opening game versus the New York Jets, Lee intercepted Mark Sanchez to earn his 3rd interception of his career. His key interception of Rex Grossman and fumble recovery in the final minute of the Cowboys’ Monday Night Football game with versus the Washington Redskins were crucial in the 18-16 comeback.
By week three, Lee had a team-leading 36 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, a tackle for a loss, and three pass breakups, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors. He was the first Cowboys player in franchise history to win the award.
In the 7th game of the 2011 season against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Field, Lee suffered a dislocated left wrist in the first quarter when he hit his hand against Michael Vick’s helmet, but opted against having season ending surgery. After 7 games, Lee lead the team in total tackles with 51, 15 more tackles than the next leading tackler, Gerald Sensabaugh with 36 total tackles. Lee also ranked first on the team with 3 interceptions, the only player on the team through the first seven games with more than one interception. On the eighth game of the season, Sean Lee was inactive due to the wrist injury sustained the previous week.
Lee ended up having a break out season, becoming one of the defense leaders by calling all the plays, leading the team with 131 tackles and tying for the team lead in interceptions (four) and tackles for loss (eight). He also became only the second linebacker to have ever intercepted both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Special contribution: David Moore | Dallas Morning News