Marqise Lee went from a Heisman Trophy candidate to an afterthought in the span of one season. He lost his quarterback, battled through injuries and suffered a decrease in production during the 2013 season as a result.
Lee still decided to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, though, and it's tough not to think of him as one of the best receivers in the draft. His collegiate body of work is impressive. Lee finished his three seasons at USC with a total of 29 receiving touchdowns and over 3,500 yards.
After tearing through the college ranks, Lee's next challenge is standing out in a class of wide receivers that is strong at the top and deep with first- and second-round prospects. As Lee said at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February, every receiver is a little bit different. So how does he stack up?
Part of what made Marqise Lee so much fun to watch over the last few seasons was his ability to adjust to the football and make plays. He's not particularly tall or heavy, and as a result he's extremely flexible as an athlete. That not only helps him once he has the ball in his hands, but it occasionally helped him get the ball in his hands as well.
That's not to say Lee is a perfect player along the sideline. He definitely has some issues battling through contact and making plays in traffic. However, that doesn't seem to have much to do with his body control. Lee is able to twist his body and adjust to the football as well as anybody.
For such a productive player, Lee surprisingly has some of the most inconsistent hands among the top wide receivers in this draft class. At least part of that is how Lee catches the football. He doesn't often pluck it from the air with his hands but prefers to basket catch it and let it get into his body at times. That's a questionable catch technique that will need to be ironed out at the next level. It leads into one of Lee's biggest issues as a wide receiver.
When the football is in the air and other bodies are around, Lee has trouble making the catch. He's not one to make many contested catches and seems to lose focus at times in these situations. His catch technique points to a lack of an aggressive mentality when going after the football, and that definitely shows up at times during his game.
Some receivers are fast off the line of scrimmage, and then there's Marqise Lee, who explodes off the line with such fluid motion that it appears he's not even trying. Lee glides around the field in an efficient manner and it starts when he's getting that initial release off the line of scrimmage.
However, there is a way to counter Lee's quick burst off the line. Simply press him with a physical cornerback. Lee has gotten better in this area since he was a sophomore, but he still struggles to fight through jams at the line and it's not terribly surprising considering he struggles in traffic. That being said, Lee has some strength and is definitely willing to mix it up as a blocker, so maybe there's room for improvement in this area of his game.
Lee didn't get to run the full spectrum of routes at USC because of the offense he played in, but he showed enough to suggest he will be a fine route runner in the NFL. At the very least, his skill set should afford him the ability to get separation consistently in the NFL. He breaks down quickly and accelerates in and out of his breaks as well as anybody in this class. That type of short-area quickness will be a big asset in the NFL given his lack of size.
It's a shame we waited this long to get to Lee's best asset. From reading the first few sections, it would be easy to be down on Lee. But he has speed to burn, and that will translate to the NFL. It's not just about how fast Lee runs when he's at full speed, it's more about how quickly he's able to get to full speed. Lee will be a deep threat in the NFL. He loves tracking the deep ball and spent most of his college career blowing by defensive backs.
On the same note, Lee is at his best with the football in his hands. He has the moves and quickness to make defenders miss in space. He doesn't always show the best vision, but all it takes is a sliver of daylight to send Lee off to the races.
At the beginning of this draft process, Lee looked like the best wide receiver in this draft class. He was battling with Sammy Watkins for that honor. Now, Lee has been passed over by Watkins and Mike Evans of Texas A&M and will be jockeying for position in the next tier of receivers that includes Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks. Lee has a lot of skills that translate to the next level, but his lack of physicality is what bumped him down a bit in our rankings. He also needs to clean up the drops and stay healthy in order to have an impact early in his NFL career. The comparison that jumps off the page is Jeremy Maclin of the Philadelphia Eagles. Lee can win in similar ways to Maclin if put in the right situations to do so.