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Sean Lee (Penn State)
Height: 6-2 Weight: 236
40 Time: 4.74
As one of the smaller linebackers entering the draft, Sean Lee has a lot to overcome, namely the high-toted guys out of Alabama and Florida. When he tore his ACL in the spring of '08, it was doubtful that he would ever reclaim the throne left vacant by fellow teammate Dan Connor.
The injury left Lee on the sidelines for his to-be senior year, serving as an ad hoc defensive coach, calling plays for his teammates and getting a better general knowledge on how a defense operates as a whole.
It's Lee's on-the-field diagnostic skills that make him one of the elite inside linebackers coming into April. He is a field operator in the backfield, showing excellent reaction skills at the line and the awareness of a corner in pass coverage. He reads the play with surprising precision, flying to the ball right off the snap.
Lee's time off the field served as an advantage more than a hindrance. He spent his time studying film and bulking up. He's still one of the smaller linebackers in his class, but he has a solid core of strength and uses it well. He displays a great sense of balance and an ability to wade through traffic to get to the ballcarrier.
He has a great initial pop, though at times he struggles to get off of blocks at the line. He uses his long arms to disengage weak blocks and his lateral speed to simply go around slower offensive linemen.
In pass coverage, Lee isn't particularly strong, but he has improved his backpedal and has enough straight-line speed to make up for his stiff hips. He has a stellar understanding of routes and flies to the ball in underneath routes. He has a tendency to bite on play action too often, but that can be remedied at the next level.
Tackling may be Lee's greatest asset. He doesn't carry the same intimidating swagger others may, but he is a flawless wrap-up tackler who uses his small size to adjust to quick runners and speed to bring down the ballcarrier and disengage the ball from his hands.
Lee isn't the best blitzer, either; his explosiveness isn't evident on every down but he has excellent body control and can easily adjust to improvisation by the quarterback or confusing blocking schemes.
Lee was the unquestioned leader in '09 at Penn State. He used his rehabilitation time to travel with the team as a coach and has an elite football IQ. He has an infectious character and simply loves the game of football. He has a chance to improve his stock at the combine in Indianapolis, though his skills are better understood in context, on the field.
Look for a team like Arizona to utilize a second or third round pick to pick up Penn State's latest offering. The Cardinals are in danger of losing quite a few defensive players to free agency, including their starting inside linebacker, Karlos Dansby. A young guy like Lee who has a grip on defensive strategy could serve as a defensive cornerstone on which the team can build a better defense.