NFC East Top 20: No. 12 Sean Lee

In the final 20 days before the start of the regular season, we are counting down the top 20 players in the NFC East. For a full explanation, see this post. And if you want to read any of the other posts that have run since we started this series, you can find them all here, in this link.

No. 12 -- Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys LB

(Last year: Not ranked)

This was probably the one omission from last year's list that I most regretted when I looked back on it. But at the time, I was waiting to see if the brilliance Lee flashed prior to his 2011 injury problems could repeat itself. It did, and Lee was one of the best defensive players in the league in 2012 ... before getting hurt again. And there's the rub, right?

When he is healthy and on the field, Lee is an absolute terror. His instincts for the ball, combined with his speed and athleticism, make him a threat to make a play anywhere from the backfield to the secondary on almost any play. The Cowboys' move to a 4-3 front will only help Lee by making him even more of a focal point for the defense, able to freelance within the confines of coverages and blitz packages that he'll be helping to coordinate from the middle linebacker position. I expect interceptions and pass breakups. I expect the occasional sack. I expect Lee to emerge as a bona fide NFL defensive star ... as long as he can keep himself healthy and on the field.

If he does that, my guess is he's higher on a list like this next year. If he doesn't, you have to start to wonder if that immense promise is ever going to be fulfilled.

The rest of the rankings:

13. Trent Williams, OT, Washington Redskins

14. Evan Mathis, OG, Philadelphia Eagles

15. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants

16. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles

17. Anthony Spencer, DE, Cowboys

18. London Fletcher, LB, Redskins

19. Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins

20. Jason Hatcher, DL, Cowboys