(With about 15 weeks left till the NFL Draft, I'll be profiling players relevant to the Pats so-called positions of "need" twice a week. 10 WRs, 10 DE/DL, 5 TEs, and 5 S in total. I'll start towards the top of the rankings and work my way down, but it won't be a set order.)
You know that one player in every draft? The one you've been following the entire college football season, and probably the season before that? The one you wish your favorite team would trade up for but they never will?
For me, that's Marqise Lee, who's been one of my favorite players to watch in CFB. Just wanted to drop that here as a disclaimer before the rest of this article.
Lee grew up in Inglewood, CA. Interesting fact: Because both of his parents are deaf, he communicates with them in sign language. Lee arrived at USC out of Serra High School in Gardena, CA after receiving multiple offers from top universities around the nation.
Anyways, Lee had a successful college career, though it was a little up and down. His best year was clearly 2012, when the trio of Matt Barkley, Lee, and Robert Woods had the Trojans ranked #1 in the nation to start out the year. The Trojans ended the year a disappointing 7-6, even though Lee put up Moss numbers with over 110 catches and 1700 yards. Barkley and Lee put up multiple monstrous games; Lee had 7 games with double digit catches and 8 games with over 100 receiving yards. His signature performance came in week 8 when he caught 16 balls for 345 yards. Including kick returns, Lee racked up 469 all purpose yards in one game.
Barkley and Woods moved on to the NFL the following year, and USC retooled the passing game with sophomores Cody Kessler (QB) and Nelson Agholar (WR).
As a Junior, Lee struggled with injuries, drops, and communication issues with his new quarterback. He missed three games with knee problems and played hurt in multiple games, which is definitely something to monitor going forward.
An official 40 time hasn't surfaced for Lee anywhere, but there is no question that Lee has top-notch football speed. Based on his tape, I would guess his 40 time is somewhere in the upper 4.3 range. There will be more info about vertical, official 40, and other drills by the combine/Pro Days, so I'll take what I can get right now.
Lee was on the track team in college, where he competed as a sprinter and long jumper. In high school, his career best in the 100 meter sprint was 10.74 seconds. To put that in perspective, Chris Johnson clocked a 10.38 in college.
Lee isn't the strongest or tallest receiver by any means, (6'0 205) and college teams are notorious for playing minimal press coverage. Therefore, Lee may struggle with press-man early on; he will definitely need to improve his release technique (as almost all rookies do), but it's possible he considers bulking up just a bit.
Track numbers are great, but don't give a player nearly enough to succeed in the NFL (Just ask the Raiders). So here's a breakdown of a few of Lee's games, where we'll see how he can succeed in the NFL, and what he'll need to work on.
Marqise Lee vs Syracuse, Arizona, UCLA & Notre Dame (2012) (via Adrian Ahufinger)
Syracuse and Arizona
- (:32), (2:40), (2:57) Like I mentioned earlier, Lee doesn't have top notch NFL size. But he hustles like Wes Welker. (4:15) Key block on the Woods reverse TD, without holding. (4:45) Another great block literally creates the outside lane for the RB to get big yardage.
- (:32-:50), (2:20) USC moved Lee around and got him in space early and often vs. Syracuse. Lee will be able to make an immediate impact in the NFL in an Edelman/Desean/Cobb role while he adapts to the physicality of the pro game. He has great balance as a runner. He can make guys miss with side/side moves while keeping his feet moving forward at the same time, especially on the screen that went for big yards.
- (1:00) Speed kills. (9:18) Speed still kills, but terrible angle by the safety. The Arizona defense was just awful. Those are some Chung/Sergio Brown angles right there.
- (1:54) A lot of these formations and route combos Lee is working with are staples in any NFL offense. Comeback out of Singleback 11 personnel? Yes, please.
- (Whole video) Special teams versatility in the kickoff game. Great kickoff returner.
- (5:47) Welker/Edelman esque maneuvering for the first down.
- (7:25) Just a great route. The corner is playing deep zone with inside position, but the subtle inside move by Lee makes the defender hesitate just enough for the burn. Also, like the commentator said, great job slowing down to adjust to the throw.
- (8:50) Lee absolutely abused Arizona all game. He was juking defenders out of their shoes left and right. I'm taking this with a grain of salt because the PAC-12 is weak in the secondary, and part of it is just the style they play. It's literally unfair for #6, playing that far off the line and being expected to stay with any WR, but most college corners don't have that top notch speed. So they have to play off to prevent the big play. It's clear the way to slow him is press man.
- (10:21) Awesome sideline "hands" catch away from the body + he gets both feet in NFL style. He is a little inconsistent with this overall, but that play in particular was textbook.
- (10:50) Solid hands again catching away from the body.
- (11:23) His speed and solid route running helps him take advantage of some more terrible secondary play. He can certainly burn slower corners and safeties. The question is how he'll fare against the Revis's and the Petersons.
Things to work on:
- (1:32) Great change of direction, but Lee has had balls security issues. He tends to hold the ball a little too casually. (16:16) More of the same.
- (4:27) Nice quickness from Lee to get open for the TD, but he needs to consistently catch the ball at it's high point with his hands. The corners in the NFL are simply quicker than college corners, so he won't have the luxury being so open that it doesn't matter if he uses his hands or his body. Much better technique at (5:18), using his body to shield the defender and catching the ball at its high point. Since he doesn't have elite size, he'll need to use his leaping ability to be a consistent red zone threat.
At this point, Lee looks like a sure first rounder. If I had to guess right now, he won't be available where the Pats are picking, but there's still a lot of time between now and the draft. There's also a ton of WR talent in the draft, so it's possible he falls if teams opt to take Watkins, Evans, or another late rising prospect.
Overall, Lee has NFL level speed and great route running short, intermediate and down the field. He needs to work on his ball skills a bit on deeper throws, especially in tight coverage. He has solid hands, but could use a little work on catching the ball away from his body more consistently. Like most other college WRs, Lee will have to put in the work to adapt to the physicality of the NFL game, but all accounts indicate he has a great work ethic and passion for the game.
Reach pick: #5, Raiders
Median pick: #10, Lions
Drop pick: #15, Steelers