Apr 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver Marqise Lee (9) carries the ball in the spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Pre-season Breakdown of Marqise Lee, WR USC

From the moment he stepped foot on USC’s campus, Marqise Lee has been special.  From his first catch against Minnesota to his first touchdown against Syracuse, the question has been when, not if Lee would be a superstar in college football.  And from the second he stepped on campus, there have been people counting the days until he would be in the NFL.  After 191 catches, 2,864 yards 27 touchdowns in his first two years, it is hard to imagine he could actually do even more as a junior.  He will have to adjust to not having Matt Barkley there anymore as his quarterback and adjust to the new quarterback guiding the Trojan offense.  Lee’s stats are slightly inflated due to the number of bubble screens USC runs, but he is still averaging 15 yards per catch, which is incredibly high, especially when all of those screens are taken into account.  Behind the line, in the middle of the field or going deep down the field, Lee is a big time playmaker and always a threat to score.  He is a tremendous ball carrier and attacks defenses as if he is a running back and has an extremely aggressive mindset in everything he does from carrying the football to blocking.  It would not be a surprise to see Lee dinged slightly just as his teammate Robert Woods was for his size, but when he does enter the draft, the sky is the limit for Lee and he has a chance to be the first wide receiver off the board.

Vitals & Build

Lee is listed at 6’1” 195lbs but plays bigger than that listing, but he does need to continue filling out his body, particularly his upper body at this point.  This is nothing that should have a dramatic impact on his draft status but if he can get over 200lbs and retain that quickness when it is time for him to work out for the draft, it would serve to just make teams feel more confident about him and his size.  Obviously teams would love him to be taller, but he is just such a dominant player, teams will simply have to look past it, but make no mistake; there will be a kerfuffle over how tall he actually is going into the draft process.  His acceleration, particularly his first step, speed, and body control are all fantastic and he has yet to play in a game where anyone could keep up with him in the open field.

Route Running & Technique

Lee has a great stance and fires off the ball quickly.  Combining that with an incredible first step, he can catch defensive backs by surprise and put them off guard easily, giving him an advantage he did not need in order to create separation.  Lee runs pretty good routes and has great feet to really refine this area of his game.  He is not at the level in terms of precision when it comes to route running that his teammate, Robert Woods was last year, but he has the tools to get there.  This could be a function of him having so much athleticism that he has not needed to refine his technique that much, but more likely is the fact that is still so young, which is easy to forget with his talent.

He does a good job of running the same route in different ways to keep defenders off balance and is able to play the man more than just thinking about his job.  The most effective one he uses is when he will slow down slightly and then gear up again because his acceleration and speed are off the charts and if he can get a corner to bite just by slowing down with him, Lee can blow by them deep.

One area he can improve both in terms of his stance and technique is how he comes off the line against press.  Normally, he keeps his hands down unless he thinks about and then brings them up to help combat against defensive backs trying to press him.  Press puts the receiver and corner in what basically amounts to a fight and a receiver, like a fighter, never wants their hands down or they are going to get hit.  Lee relies on his quickness and agility to try to get around press and needs to continue working on getting around and defeating press.  Better hand use at the start would help.  Teams trying to slow down Lee are going to get up on him and press him because no one, especially in college, can afford to let him get a free release, which is why he is in motion so often.

It is slightly surprising how limited the route tree Lee has run during his time at USC.  For the most part, Lee is going on a nine route, running a post, or stopping for a bubble screen.  He has and will run other routes but those are the vast majority of what he has run there.  This is also a contributing factor on why he does not run the crispest routes yet, because he is asked to run few that ask him to be precise in his footwork.  Hopefully, that will change this year so he can continue his development as a receiver.

Hands

When it comes to catching the football, Lee has extremely soft and natural hands.  He catches the ball cleanly and easily and has a good sized catching radius.  He is not a guy who often has to double catch the football and he wastes little time catching the ball and securing it so he can get yards after the catch.  Lee has shown he does a great job tracking the ball at any level of the field and is comfortable going and getting the ball or letting the ball go over his shoulder or head and finding it to catch the football.  He also demonstrates a good sense of where the sideline is and has shown he is more than capable of getting his feet in bounds while securing the catch.  Lee’s ability to focus on the football is impressive and he can adjust to passes that are tipped at times and still make the play.

Lee is not afraid to go up and get the ball at its highest point, but will sometimes run into problems simply because he is not the prototypical 6’3”-6’5” receiver with broad shoulders that blocks out the defensive back from having a shot at it.  He is a much smaller player with a leaner frame and defenders are able to stick their arms around him and get them in to deflect passes at times.  This could potentially be a bigger problem in the NFL because defensive backs will get bigger and stronger there.

He will do a good job of getting his body between the ball and defender when able.  Whether that means going up in the air and securing a pass in the middle of the field in front of a safety or keeping a corner from being able to catch up and get their hands in on the play with the deep ball, Lee has a good sense of boxing out the opponent when able.  However, he does need to embrace the role of being a defensive back more when it is clear he is not going to be able to make a play on the ball to make sure it is not an interception.  There have been examples where he is already frustrated with the situation on a badly thrown pass and showing it rather than staying with the play and making sure it is not a turnover, or if it is, making sure he minimizes the damage with a tackle.

Run After Catch

For all of the special qualities Lee has, this might be the best.  He is simply electric with the ball in his hands and his agility and his incredible acceleration where it feels as if he is near full speed after two strides makes him a terror in the open field whether it be on a screen or catching a slant and he has the speed that if he gets even with the defenders, he is going to take it to the house.  He is always a threat to make a big play.

Lee is extremely comfortable with the ball in his hands and is an aggressive runner.  He can get skinny and fit through small seams and has the balance and athletic ability to look the part of a scat back with the ball in his hands.  He can plant his foot and change directions extremely well and his first step is incredible which makes him a tough match up to deal with when he stops and starts.  The only issue he sometimes has is that he will let the ball get too far away from his body which can result in fumbles.  He just needs to tuck it away better all the time, but beyond that, he is tremendous.

Lee makes an incredibly smooth transition from catching the ball to being able to become a ball carrier and make moves to make opponents miss quickly, which is part of why he is so effective.  There are examples where he catches passes like a slant route and barely pauses in catching the ball and then hits that next gear where no one can touch him.  He has also demonstrated a pretty good sense for knowing where the first down marker is and targeting it for when he does give up on a play, whether that be going down in the middle of the field or going out of bounds on the sideline.

Blocking

Lee is a competitive blocker and takes advantage of the opportunity to hit the opponent and show off his strength.  He goes after defensive backs with a lot of emphasis and will keep driving them until the whistle.  Lee is more than happy to help get blocks for his teammates down the field and has helped teammates score touchdowns because of his effort and flashes the ability to put a guy on his butt.  For the most part, Lee uses good technique but he will occasionally attack the wrong shoulder and will sometimes fall off of blocks because he wants to dominate his opponent so badly.  If those are the biggest complaints against a receiver in his blocking, a team is going to be thrilled with him in that regard.

Special Teams

Although he is unlikely to continue doing it at the next level too often, Lee has contributed on special teams as a returner.  He is a threat to score to the extent that he always is because of his incredible quickness and acceleration but he is an average kick returner in terms of being able to see lanes and knowing when he should attack open lanes.

System Fit

Lee can play in any scheme a team wants to put him in, but his best fit is in a West Coast or horizontal style passing offense.  He can stretch the field and make plays down the field, but where he is scariest is catching a slant in stride and just taking off with the defense having no chance to catch him.  Whether he lines up in the slot or on the outside, he is a guy that teams are going to want to throw to at least ten times a game and get the ball in his hands anyway they can.  If he is out on an island, he can make a guy miss and he is off to the races.  He is going to force teams to protect their corner with a safety over the top and open passing lanes for his teammates and himself.  The other offensive system that stands out as being able to make the most of Lee is what the Saints are running.  They like to get their receivers open in space and find the open guy and let him make plays.  The Rams appear to be planning on doing something similar.  It would still be a great move for a more vertical based offense to take him but his talents do fit the best of what he does in a timing based offense like the one he ran at USC.

2013 Schedule

Thu, Aug. 29 at Hawaii
Sat, Sept. 7 vs. Washington State
Sat, Sept. 14 vs. Boston College
Sat, Sept. 21 vs. Utah State
Sat, Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Thu, Oct. 10 vs. Arizona
Sat, Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Sat, Oct. 26 vs. Utah
Fri, Nov. 1 at Oregon State
Sat, Nov. 9 at Cal
Sat, Nov. 23 at Colorado
Fri, Nov. 29 vs. UCLA

Notable Games

Every game Lee plays in is a must watch given what he can do, but the Notre Dame defense and UCLA’s defense could pose interesting challenges for Lee this coming year as Notre Dame has a lot of talent returning this year and UCLA is enjoying a resurgence under Jim Mora, especially in terms of their toughness.  Both are also rivalry games that always have an added level of intensity.  The most notable part of USC’s schedule this year might be who is noticeably absent from it; Stanford and Oregon.  The only way USC sees either of those teams is if they play them in the PAC-12 Championship.

NFL Comparison

In many ways, Lee is an even more impressive version of the former Seminole and Cincinnati Bengal, Peter Warrick.  It would be a mistake to assume this is a dig at Lee.  When Warrick was coming out of Florida State, he was an open field nightmare who had incredible quickness and could make plays all over the field.  Lee is faster and more dangerous than Warrick was coming out and he should have a more promising career arc, but Warrick was the 4th overall pick in 2000 for a reason and did find success in the NFL; just not enough of it.  Lee could be everything people hoped Warrick could be when he was drafted and because he has more physical gifts than Warrick did, he could end up pulling it off and being the franchise player Warrick was not.

Draft Projection

From his athleticism to his polish and technique as a wide receiver, Lee is just a fantastic football player and as long as nothing unforeseen happens this year, it is difficult to imagine him getting out of the first round; the question is just how high in the first he could go.  Outside of his frame, Lee appears to be the total package as a player as well as someone who can keep defensive coordinators up at night trying to figure out ways to stop him.  Lee has a good chance of being the first receiver selected in next year’s draft, should he declare.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft 2014 NFL Mock Draft Marqise Lee USC Trojans Football Wide Receivers

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