Star Evaluation: Why It's A Different Defense When Sean Lee's On The Field

While the first couple of waves of free agency have passed, it's never too late to upgrade the roster, something the Cowboys will try to do at the end of this month with the NFL Draft.  

Even with that, the majority of the 2018 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

Today, we continue the series with linebacker Sean Lee.

Views of #50 Linebacker Sean Lee from the 2017-18 Regular Season.

What's Been Good:

The Cowboys' record, for one, when Lee is on the field. They went 8-2 last season in the games he played and 1-5 in the games he missed, including Week 10 at Atlanta when he left with a hamstring in the first quarter. Lee's presence is simply invaluable. His instincts and preparation, coupled with his ability to run and make tackles from the weak side, has a stabilizing effect on the entire defense. He once again led the Cowboys with a team-credited 118 tackles and 13 for loss. The club won three of its last four games with him back in the lineup and finished fifth in scoring defense (20.8) and eighth in total defense (318.1).

What's Been Bad:

Lee prides himself on being there for his teammates and grows frustrated when he isn't able to stay on the field. Coming off an All-Pro year in 2016, he enjoyed the first offseason since 2012 where he didn't undergo surgery or work his way back from a serious injury that required surgery. He was able to make 11 of 16 possible starts in 2017, but a hamstring injury knocked him out of October losses to the Rams and Packers and again for the better part of four games in November. The 31-year-old did return for the final four games of the season.

2017 Highlight:

Think Lee was ready to get back to work in December? After sitting out most of a four-game November stretch in which the Cowboys went 1-3, he led the defense with an astounding 20 tackles and a late interception that clinched a Dec. 10 road win over the Giants. The play of the game: Lee stuffing Giants receiver Sterling Shepard for a 9-yard loss in the fourth quarter, forcing the Giants to punt and setting up the Cowboys' offense for a touchdown drive that took the lead for good.

What's Next:

Linebacker looks like a logical draft focus for Dallas. They signed veteran Joe Thomas for depth, and they're confident Jaylon Smith can continue to make strides following his first season back from injury. Anthony Hitchens' free-agent departure means the Cowboys probably aren't done looking for depth. Lee's health is the X-factor, though. When he's at his best, the defense doesn't give up much in the way of yards and points.

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  • One of the most complete players in the league. Rare that you see him have a bad snap.
  • Work ethic and competitiveness are off the charts. Makes those around him better.
  • Physical and mental toughness to carry out his assignments without fail. Playing speed to cover the ground along with the strength to finish the play.
  • Hard player to fool due to his football intelligence. Scheme aware. Always thinking ahead.
  • Plays with lower body power and flexibility. Doesn't allow himself to be blocked or taken advantage of.
  • Plays best when on the move. The move to the WILL linebacker allows him to do what's best and that's run to the ball.
  • Never comes off the field. Can use him in all situations.
  • He's accountable and makes those around him the same. Injury has robbed him at various times during his career.
  • Has always fought back to be better than he was when he left. Defense tends to struggle without him due to his leadership and playmaking ability.  
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