Draft Daily: Why USC WR Lee Makes Sense At No. 22

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona State

Against Chip Kelly’s Oregon squad in 2012, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee caught 12 balls for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-51 loss.

He lined up all over the place in that game – outside, in the slot and in the backfield. He drew a pair of penalties in the end zone and gave the Trojans excellent field position on multiple occasions with tremendous kickoff returns.

“He may be the best receiver I’ve had the opportunity to coach against,” Kelly said at the time, per USC’s Web site. “He’s impressive on film, but even more impressive when you watch him in person.”

Lee was considered by pretty much everyone as one of the top two or three wide receivers in the game in 2012, catching 118 balls for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. The year before, he had 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 scores (including an eight-catch, 187-yard game against Oregon).

But in 2013, the numbers weren’t as impressive: 57 grabs for 791 yards and four touchdowns.

Lee battled a shoulder injury before the season started and then suffered a knee sprain in September that slowed him down. Combine those with the fact that he was playing with a new quarterback and multiple head coaches (Lane Kiffin was fired during the season), and there seem to be legitimate reasons why Lee wasn’t as productive as a junior.

Now, NFL teams are tasked with determining what they might be getting with the 6-foot, 192-pound receiver if they draft him. Making the decision perhaps more difficult is that Lee didn’t run as fast at the combine (4.52) as many expected.

But as you can see, he does possess some athletic traits:

The Eagles have shown pre-draft interest in Lee. After taking a closer look at his games (from 2013 and 2012), the guess here is that Lee will be a player the Eagles strongly consider with the 22nd pick if he’s available. Below are examples of why I feel that way.

Let’s start with this play against Stanford:

When the QB is in trouble, Lee consistently does a great job of adjusting his routes and coming back to the football. Here, he catches the ball in a tight space and gets his foot in-bounds. Lee’s footwork near the sidelines is outstanding.

One thing that stood out from watching Lee is how polished he is. There is nothing raw at all about his game. Lee is a player that should be able to step in right away and have an impact.

Here’s an example of him getting open in the red zone against Stanford. He makes an excellent adjustment on the football and once again gets his feet down in bounds for the score.

Lee is not a burner, but he is a big-play threat and shows great instincts in picking up yards after the catch.

According to Rotoworld, Lee averaged 7.05 YAC in 2013, which ranks top-five in this year’s draft class.

Here’s a 3rd-and-13 play against Fresno State. Lee runs an in-breaking route, makes the catch and takes off for a touchdown.

Break-away speed doesn’t appear to be an issue on plays like this.

Another example of Lee’s YAC ability. Here, he runs a comeback route against Stanford, jukes multiple defenders and picks up extra yardage.

Lee has really good short-area quicks and footwork. I see no reason why he couldn’t be effective both on the outside and the inside – something Kelly values with his receivers.

And one more example of the YAC against Fresno State:

Another comeback route. This time, Lee makes a defender miss and takes off down the sideline.

When I started watching Lee closely, I wanted to see whether his size was an issue. As you can see from the spider graph above, he’s not the biggest guy. But what I discovered is that he’s plenty physical to be effective in the NFL.

This play came in the Oregon game I mentioned at the top of the post:

Lee knocks the cornerback over on the jam and gets behind the defense for a big play.

And here’s another example against Stanford. Lee drags defenders along with him for a 27-yard gain.

In Philadelphia, this is known as a “Brent Celek special.” But it’s equally impressive coming from a 192-pound receiver against one of the nation’s more physical defenses.

In the games I watched, Lee flashed good hands, but the numbers suggest drops were an issue for him last year. Per Rotoworld, Lee dropped 12.3 percent of the catchable balls thrown his way. That’s something he’ll certainly need to work on.

He also didn’t do a lot of damage downfield last year. Only 3.5 percent of his grabs were on passes 20 yards or past the line of scrimmage (per Rotoworld). Given his disappointing 40 time, that’s something NFL GMs will have to consider when slotting him.

Still, there’s plenty to like about Lee. He’s quick, physical, polished and had an extremely productive college career.

“Marquise Lee is the best college receiver that I’ve seen since I scouted Randy Moss,” said Stanford coach David Shaw.

He was a captain last year and was named USC’s most courageous player. Part of that had to do with this big 4th-and-2 catch he made in an upset against Stanford while dealing with a knee injury and a shin injury.

NFL teams will have to make sure Lee’s medicals check out, although it’s worth noting that he played in the team’s bowl game in December and had seven catches for 118 yards and two scores. In other words, he looked healthy at the end of the season.

They’ll also have to factor in why his 40 time was mediocre and didn’t seem to match his game speed.

But all things considered, the guess here is that Lee will be a player Kelly covets, and he’s a strong possibility with the 22nd pick.

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