Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant is the obvious choice here on the Dallas Cowboys -- and I very much believe that Bryant is going to be a star. And besides Bryant, I also strongly considered focusing on defensive end Stephen Bowen.
But Sean Lee was excellent in his limited snaps as a rookie and could be the energetic and versatile interior linebacker that new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can lean on as the quarterback of his defense for the foreseeable future. When Ryan gets settled in and reviews all the defensive tape from 2010, Lee is sure to intrigue him.
As a rookie, Lee didn’t play many snaps overall and didn’t record his first NFL tackle until Week 5. But for a rookie, Lee’s tape is very impressive. He is a good-sized linebacker (6-foot-2, 242 pounds) who will continue to add bulk, strength and weight to better take on offensive linemen.
Lee already is an exceptional player in the run game. He sees the action clearly and is very quick to react without taking many false steps. Lee’s pursuit skills are strong and he is an above average athlete for a 3-4 inside linebacker. He is a great form tackler who plays the game very well with his eyes.
Lee also has the fluid hips and range to excel as either a zone or man-to-man defender against some tight ends and running backs. But at this point, his skills in the passing game do not equal his run-stopping prowess. Still, as rookie linebackers go, his coverage skills are well ahead of the curve. He could stand to work on his pass rushing, and Ryan is sure to use him frequently as a blitzer.
At this point, Lee’s path to playing time isn’t real clear, but I don’t think it will take long before he proves to be the best inside linebacker on the Dallas roster. The Cowboys look to be very strong at linebacker overall.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.