Cowboys Sean Lee: Successful Return At OTAs
We all know how good Sean Lee is when he's healthy. Unfortunately, he's only been healthy for just over half of his time in the NFL - playing in 46 games but missing 34 due to injury. Now healthy, Lee is expected to provide huge boost to the defense in 2015 - barring any other injures (fingers crossed). If everything goes according to plan, the Cowboys will be getting back one of the NFL's best linebackers and the quarterback of their defense.
That process began anew this week at Valley Ranch, first with anticipation ...
Lee has been "so anxious (to return),'' teammate Barry Church said last week. "He's always 100 percent. I'm just looking forward to our leader being back out there."
And then with production ...
"Class, class, class,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said in characterizing Lee. ““Oh, it’s fun (having him back). He’s a ball of energy and excitement and represents who we are.”
This week was a "protected'' step in the process; Lee's work was limited. We haven't seen Lee go full-speed in over a year now, so I wanted to help remind everyone of how special this guy is. Here are Sean Lee's stats from the 46 games he's played in the NFL ...
Total Tackles: 293
Solo Tackles: 222
Tackles for a Loss: 19
Average Per INT Return: 28 yards
Passes Defended: 18
Forced Fumbles: 2
Fumble Recoveries: 3
INT's Returned for Touchdowns: 2
- Lee is just the second LB to to intercept both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Donnie Edwards was the other. Lee has four career INT's against Super Bowl-winning QB's.
- Five of Sean Lee's 11 interceptions have come in the 4th quarter or overtime. Can you say "clutch''?
- Sean Lee tied Lee Roy Jordan's franchise record for most tackles in a single game, with 21 vs the Seahawks in 2011.
- Lee led the NFL in INT return yards in 2013 with 174 (an average of 43.5 yards per return).
Those are all impressive numbers, but it gets even better. Sean Lee's 11 interceptions are tied with DeAndre Levy for most interceptions by a linebacker since 2010. No other LB has more than 8 in that span. Keep in mind that Lee has missed 34 games since 2010 while Levy has only missed 7. Lee is also tied with several other LB's for most INT's returned for TD's since 2010, with 2. But wait, there's more ...
Sean Lee averages one interception every 4.18 games, which is the best rate among all LB's in NFL history with at least 10 interceptions. To put that into perspective, here is a list of some of the linebackers with the most career interceptions in NFL history, along with their average games per interception rate:
Don Shinnick: 4.29
Jack Lambert: 4.92
Lee Roy Jordan: 5.81
Chuck Howley: 7.20
Ray Lewis: 7.35
Ray Nitschke: 7.60
Derrick Brooks: 8.96
As you can see, there are some big names on this list - and Sean Lee has a better rate than all of them. The NFL record for career interceptions by a linebacker is 37 by Don Shinnick. To break that record, Sean Lee would need to maintain his current INT rate while playing in every game until the end of the 2021 season. He would be 35 years old. However, if Sean Lee had stayed healthy in every game thus far in his career, he would currently have 19 interceptions (according to his average) and would have played in 80 games. That would put him on pace to break the record in 2019, the final year of his current contract, when he would be 33 years old. In fact, let's take a look at what all of Lee's stats would look had he been healthy for the entire 80 games of his career.
Total Tackles: 509
Solo Tackles: 386
Tackles for a Loss: 33
Passes Defended: 31
Forced Fumbles: 3
Fumble Recoveries: 5
Interceptions Returned for Touchdowns: 3
If these were Lee's current stats, he would have seven more interceptions than DeAndre Levy and at least twice as many interceptions as every other LB in the NFL since 2010. He would also lead all LB's in passes defended and interceptions returned for touchdowns in that span. Once again, all of this means nothing if Lee can't stay healthy. However, at 28 years old, Lee still has a few prime years left. If he can somehow kick this injury bug, maybe he can start showing everyone how special he really is. This guy is a special talent. ... oh, and maybe he's just now finding his position.
The Cowboys are moving Lee from middle linebacker (where Ro McClain will play) to weakside, in theory freeing him to be even more of a playmaker.
“That position is built on instincts,” Marinelli said. “You’ve got to have movement and speed and all those things. But it’s awareness, and I think he’s got really good instincts to play. He’s covered up (by the tackle lined up in front of him) ... I think he can really use his speed.”
And the Cowboys can really use Sean Lee, after an uneventful week of OTAs, to have an eventful 2015.