When it comes to NFL draft prospects, the term elite gets thrown around a little too often for my liking. I try and never use it unless I really think a player deserves it. For USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, the term seems to fit. Here is a preseason look at the top wide receiver in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft and one of the best players overall, draft eligible.
Lee is a dominant player. He is only 6-foot-1, but it never shows on the field. He runs crisp routes, smooth in-and-out of his breaks. He is strong and physical, and can shield off defenders, especially in interior routes. His on-field quickness is outstanding and he is able to get open with the smooth steps of a future star. Lee can really put his foot in the dirt and turn on a dime, keeping his shoulders low and leverage on his side.
When the ball is in the air, it’s Lee’s and everyone else is going to have to work for it. He has live hands and really goes out and gets the football, often waiting until the last instant just to fool defenders. He’s also a very good leaper and shows great timing, able to high point the football and, with his strength, just take it away from anyone who gets into his area.
Some critics will look at Lee and wish he were 6-4, but this is no shortcoming to me. His skill set makes up for his size, and neutralizes any problems he may have. Also, the passing tree at USC wasn’t deep. While I’ve never see Lee run a bad route, it is a consideration of the number of routes he runs. Other than this, it’s very hard to pick apart his game. He’s a more than capable run blocker and brings that powerful and physical mentality to all facets of his game.
The USC offense uses a lot of short routes, asking the receivers to get yards after the catch. That’s a part of Lee’s game that has to be very exciting to NFL franchises. Once he gets the football in his hands, he turns into a power running back with speed. He has no qualms about dropping his shoulder and running over a would-be tackler, or turning on the jets and running away from them. He rarely looks to go down easy, and is always working to get that extra yard rather than get out of bounds.
When I look ahead to 2013, the biggest question for me will be how Lee does minus his favorite quarterback and fellow wide receiver as Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have both moved on to the NFL. Woods is going to see even more coverage, have to beat more press at the line and navigate more bracket coverages than last season. If he can do all that and have a season like 2012, he should be able to cement a spot in the top five of the first round.