As we countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.
Hands: 9 3/8”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.52
Vertical Jump: 38”
Broad Jump: 10’ 7”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.01
Background (College Stats)
No matter what limitations he may have on the field, Lee has probably already overcome more adversity to this point in his life than he is likely to see during his pro career. The mere fact that he has been successful in spite of his upbringing and surroundings is a testament to his will and character, something that will likely not go unnoticed on draft day. Let’s provide a little background on Lee before moving on to his college career: both of his parents are deaf, his father was not regularly involved in his life and he moved frequently between his parents and grandparents before he and his sister were placed in foster care after he finished sixth grade. Both of his older brothers were involved in gangs – one died in a gang-related shooting while the other was imprisoned for attempted murder – and Marqise wanted to join them in the same gang, but his brothers did right by him and prevented him from doing so. Fortunately, Lee befriended a kid from a private high school by the name of Steven Hester Jr. after he joined the high school basketball team following his freshman year and eventually moved in with the Hester family in 2008. Lee finished as the No. 36 overall player in Rivals’ top 100 players in the 2011 recruiting class. The Pac-12’s Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year (along with Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas) in 2011 took the conference by storm as a rookie (73-1143-11), combining with Robert Woods to accumulate the most receptions (184) and yards (2,435) by a receiving duo in school history – before they broke the record again the following season. With Woods drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses after an 111-catch, 15-score campaign, Lee took his game to another level in 2012 with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns while doubling as the Trojans’ starting kickoff returner – numbers that made the eventual All-American the clear-cut choice to receive the Fred Biletnikoff Award. Woods and QB Matt Barkley left for the NFL and, combined with an early knee injury, Lee turned in a disappointing season in 2013, recording career lows in catches (57), yards (791) and TDs (four).
NFL Player Comp(s): Antonio Brown
- Vision and elusiveness make him one of the best run-after-catch receivers in this class.
- Smooth and explosive in and out of his cuts, knows how to set up defensive backs and understands how to manipulate man or zone coverage.
- Dynamic downfield receiver with the ability to “gear up” and run under the deep ball; plays bigger than his size.
- Makes the catch with his hands more often than not, quickly transitions from runner to receiver and does a nice job of working the sideline.
- Already proven he is physically tough and can handle adversity; willing to work the middle of the field and can contribute immediately in the return game.
- Tenacious downfield blocker, particularly for a receiver of his size.
- Too many focus drops and double-catches for a player with so many spectacular catches on his resume (12.3 drop percentage in 2013, nearly three times higher than Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans).
- Relies a bit too much on his athleticism and can freelance his routes on occasion; will give up ground a bit too often in search for a bigger play.
- Average size may hinder his ability to “high-point” balls as effectively as he did in college or get away with an occasionally sloppy route.
- Needs to add strength – especially in his lower body – in order to break more tackles, get off the jam regularly and maintain blocks.
- Durability is a slight question mark.
- Tends to let the ball get away from his body in traffic.
Unlike many of the bigger (and mostly disappointing) receivers to come out of USC in recent years, Lee is a smaller and more explosive dynamo that should be able to secure a No. 2 receiver job in the NFL in short order with the potential to be a lower-end top receiver at some point in his career if he is able to shore up some of his shortcomings. Injuries and a downgrade at quarterback played a large role in his rather large statistical drop-off from 2012 to 2013, but it is easy to forget that Woods occupied a lot of defensive attention during Lee’ s Biletnikoff Award-winning campaign. Much like college quarterbacks that lack accuracy, it is hard for a college receiver to develop “better hands” as they move to the pros, so interested NFL teams must figure out if his high drop percentage comes from a lack of consistent focus or hand placement (or both) and decide if it is a problem they can correct. Because he lacks the mismatch potential of Watkins and Evans as well as the kind of explosion that players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks possess (and the natural hands of all four), Lee slots somewhere between the fifth-best and eighth-best receiver in this class. However, that assessment should hardly be considered a knock because it is entirely possible that each of the aforementioned players will be No. 1 receivers within a year or two in the league. Lee is obviously a tough customer that has the heart and run-after-catch ability to be a productive player for a long time in the NFL if he can lower last season’s drop rate and add some more muscle in order to better protect himself.