The 2013 season has been anything but what Marqise Lee was hoping for at USC. The quarterback stability that had been there was gone and injuries dogged him all year. Nevertheless, the talented wide receiver kept competing and did not use the injuries as an excuse to sit out of games. Although he was clearly not healthy and it showed in his play, he stilled made contributions and found ways to get open and make plays even when it was clear how much pain he was shouldering. The expectation is he will have offseason surgery to clean up his knee.
Lee at 100% is clearly a different play than what he showed this year, but this past season at USC may have shown what NFL teams can expect from Lee when he is hurt. He is the type of player a team will have to shut down from playing through an injury, which teams love. When healthy, Lee has tremendous acceleration, top end speed and body control. He has the ability to pluck the ball out of the air, but needs to eliminate the concentration drops and avoid letting passes get into his body. Lee still warrants a first round pick, provided he does not have any lasting medical issues. If he is able to test at 100%, there will probably be a point in time when he gets a surge in buzz because of his athletic ability. If he is held back at all by injury, he could have a situation where he goes later than his talent warrants and a team potentially gets a big steal.
Vitals & Build
Lee is listed at 6’ 195lbs but plays bigger than that listing. 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. Perhaps because of the injury issue, Lee has occasionally had issues where he bounces out of his stance. This might resolve itself when healthy, but it should be iron out before next season.
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 former teammate, Robert Woods was, 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. The fact that he has been dealing with an injury might have actually forced him to be smarter with his movements in creating separation, since he could not really on his natural explosion as much.
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. He has shown to have better use of his hands down the field and using his upper body to help him to create space. This is something he should continue to employ in his game and get more and more comfortable doing.
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.
There are some drops and while they are usually a result of concentration and trying to run before he has caught the ball, they need to be addressed. The other occasional issue with Lee is when the ball is on him and he allows it to get into his body. He clearly has the ability to be good with his hands and should trust them more.
Lee 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.
Eliminating the body catches should only make this transition faster and more consistent. When he is confident and catching the ball away from his body, his movement does not stop or have to brace to get the ball into his body and is able to maintain speed and keep attacking down the field.
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. There are also situations where Lee will lunge and end up missing rather than just getting into the opponent and then driving him down the field. Those knock out blocks look great until they miss and they become a big problem in a hurry.
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.
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 or Packers are running. They like to get their receivers open in space and find the open guy and let him make plays. The Rams are another team that have embraced this style of play. 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.
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.
Despite the issues at USC this year for Marqise Lee, he still has shown he can be a tremendous player and weapon. Even playing through obvious pain, Lee kept competing and found ways to make contributions for the Trojans this season and while he may not have been able to play at the level he normally could, that actually might make some teams appreciate him a little bit more. He needs to clean up a few issues including some drops and just refining his route running and blocking, but he looks like he should be able to contribute immediately. Lee warrants a first round pick and as long as there are no lingering medical issues, he should still end up there, but with the way wide receivers have gone in recent years, seeing Lee slip into the top of round two would not be stunning.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com