Substance over style as 'Boys draft Lee

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Penn State LB Sean Lee in the second round Friday.

LB Sean Lee Profile

One of the players most perceived as a pre-draft target of the Dallas Cowboys was USC safety Taylor Mays, who ended up being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. The drawback, critics said, was that Mays is a better athlete than he is a football player.

Penn State linebacker, Sean Lee, the Cowboys' second-round selection after a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, is exactly the opposite.

He's a better athlete than many think, but his value is in all of the intangibles. He is exceptionally smart and reads defenses as quickly as anyone. He sheds blockers well and is a very sure tackler. He has the proverbial "non-stop motor" and will chase players from one sideline to the other, and is a tireless worker in practice and in games.

His production is unquestioned. In four seasons with the Nittany Lions — he started three — Lee amassed 325 tackles, including 29.5 for losses. He had more than 85 tackles three times, including a career-best 138 in 2007. He also broke up 17 passes in his career, and collected three interceptions.

But while his statistical accomplishments are exceptional, the concern has to be about his durability. At the NFL Combine last month, Lee measured in at 6-foot-2 and weighed 236 pounds, which is fairly lean for an inside linebacker in the Big 10, much less in the NFL. He also missed the entire 2008 season after surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, and then missed time in 2009 because of a sprained left knee.

Almost since his arrival in Happy Valley five years ago, Lee began drawing comparisons to another former Penn State linebacker whose smarts and desire and work ethic made up for limited overall athletic ability: Shane Conlon, although Lee isn't as big and strong as Conlon.

Lee's 4.76 speed in the 40-yard dash limits his ability on blitzes and in coverage, but he is so smart and instinctive, and his technique is so polished that he can be extremely effective around the line of scrimmage. If he can hold up physically against NFL blockers, he could be a valuable contributor for years.

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