Marqise Lee was a starter at USC right away in 2011, his first year on the team. He started eight games and posted over 1,000 receiving yards. But 2012 is when he really blew up though, starting 13 games, catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards, hauling in 14 touchdowns, and eventually becoming a consensus All-American and Biletnikoff award winner as the best wide receiver in the country.
In 2013, however, Lee saw a drop in production due to injuries and less than stellar play, as well as just being in a bad situation due to the strange occurrences at USC over the year. He improved later in the year, but his draft stock had already suffered. The receiver that most had pegged as a top-10 pick after 2012, was now a long shot for the first round.
Fit With Jacksonville
I talked here about how I think Blake Bortles is a good fit with Jedd Fisch's offense due to Fisch's tendencies to lean towards a fast pace and quick-striking passing game. This plays right into Lee's strengths, as he does his best work when you simply just get him the ball as soon as you can and let him create on his own. Fisch implemented a lot of bubble and smoke screen passes to let receiver create yards after the catch.
The farther Lee gets away from the line of scrimmage, the less he'll "win" his matchups, so it's better to just make it to where he can the ball quickly and do his damage post-catch. With Fisch, and Bortles for that matter, Lee is a very good fit.
I think this was okay, but not great value. It wasn't a massive reach to take Lee at the top of the second round, but his issues in 2013 should not be downplayed. He struggled and was not a first round caliber player and it can be argued at times that he did not play like a top-50 one at many times, either.
However, considering the receivers still on the board, Lee and his draft slot are not overly bad or good one way or another.
Marqise Lee's Biggest Strengths
First and foremost, Lee's biggest strength is his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. At USC, he was frequently given the opportunity to get involved in the passing game due to a heavy number of screens -- specifically smoke screens -- which is something we saw Jedd Fish incorporate frequently in 2013. When catching the ball at the line of scrimmage, Lee shows some great promise at getting yards after the catch.
In the video below, he displays his instant acceleration due to seamless transition from receiver to runner. He shows vision, a willingness to fight for more yards, and the ability to cut on a dime.
Lee is smart and instinctive with the ball in his hands, showing decisiveness and ability to read defenders angles and use his athleticism to outrun them.
Lee's ability after the catch doesn't just show up when he's 10 yards from the line of scrimmage though. He's able to make defenders miss at multiple levels of the field. It really is impressive how he instantly becomes a runner with the ball in his hands, showing little hesitation.
Despite being a shade under 200 pounds, and with a frame that looks even smaller, Lee is determined and a physical runner after the catch. I do have some questions about his strength. But if he adds bulk, he has the kind of mindset as a runner to be versatile in how he creates yards.
Route Running and Releases off of the LOS
While Lee will likely do his most damage on screens and quick-hitting passes, he has the skill set to be a valuable option at every level. This is due to his knack for getting consistently good and efficient releases off the line and his ability to quickly change direction.
Lee's best routes are inside breaking routes and when he is asked to release down the field to take the top off an offense. A few good examples of Lee's capability on these type of routes are below.
On this play, Lee initially releases to the defender's outside shoulder, and Lee's speed and threat as a vertical threat forces the defensive back to flip his hips, anticipating a vertical route. Lee sells the release nicely, and then uses quick feet to break inside and gain inside leverage to give the quarterback an easy throwing window on a slant.
On the play below, Lee (top right of screen) once again tries to sell a vertical route. The Stanford defender stays disciplined and anticipates the route though, and positions himself not to lose leverage at the breakpoint of the route, but Lee is simply too quick for him to prevent giving up separation. Lee is able to break so quickly due to good lateral quickness and a very flexible lower half that makes it easy to change direction.
(Here's an example of Lee's flexible lower half)
As a vertical threat, Lee is able to use his quick feet and fluid movement skills to release off the line of scrimmage with ease, forcing defenders to flip their hips early. He has the straight-line speed to take the top off of defenses and outrun defenders who are forced to transition. As a vertical threat, he shows good ability to track the ball in the air as well.
Marqise Lee's Biggest Weaknesses
Catching the ball
Lee's biggest weakness is pretty clear and apparent each game. He is simply not very good at catching the football.
On occasions, he flashes catches like this that make you believe he has strong hands and can efficiently catch outside his frame.
But he also has plays like this that give extreme pause.
This isn't simply misjudging the ball in the air. He has shown he can do that effectively.
This play shows me he has issues with hand-eye coordination, and has issues making the necessary movements to catch the ball consistently.
That play, while my most egregious example, is not my only one. Here is another example of Lee showing issues with hand-eye coordination.
Lee's issues catching does not always result in drops though. Even on routine catches, he shows poor technique.
On this play, Lee shows off his ability to change direction instantly and run a route flawlessly. But it also displays his poor technique.
Lee makes the catch, but my issue with the play is his first instinct to adjust to the ball was to try to expose his chest to give himself an opportunity to corral the ball in a body catch.
On the surface, this play looks like just another electric play from Marqise Lee -- the type that had become routine for so many to see. But on review, it illustrates his faults to go along with his appeal.
Lee's technique on this catch is frankly horrid. As easy as a catch like this may seem for a highly touted receiver, he has no business even making this catch with how he approached it. Instead of making cohesive, and routine, movements to bring his hands together for the catch, he exposes his chest yet again, opting to body catch when it was simply not needed.
Many pointed to bad quarterback play and injuries for Lee's issues with catching the ball, but that is simply untrue. An example would be here, in 2012 game.
Lee does not position himself as well as he potentially could have in the end zone, but he still has the advantage over the cornerback. Yet again, he just makes the reception look unnatural. This was in 2012, with Matt Barkley as his quarterback. Barkley wasn't the type of quarterback in 2012 many thought he'd be, but he is a clear and consensus better quarterback than what Lee had in 2013.
Lee still had issues catching with Barkley under center, plain and simple. This isn't an injury or a quarterback or a program or a coaching problem, or whatever excuse you want to use. This is a Lee problem.
I don't think Lee's catching is a focus or physicality issue either. He has shown he can make catches through contact.
And he has shown the focus to make both routine and acrobatic catches.
Lee's catching is perplexing to me. At times it looks fine, but it was consistently cringe-worthy during some stretches. The fact that he instantly opts to body catch as his first instinct is an issue that troubles me and I'm not sure how fixable it is.
Aside from catching, Lee doesn't have a ton of on-field issues to me outside of poor strength. His biggest weakness outside of catching is a lengthy injury history, and it's a proven fact that injuries at the college level correlate to injuries at the pro level.
The Best Case Scenario for Marqise Lee's Rookie Season
The best case scenario for Lee in 2014 is that he stays healthy enough to grow with the young offense and Bortles, whenever he himself is thrown in as starter. As a rookie receiver, Lee will have some issues transitioning to the NFL at first, so expectations should be tempered, even in a best case scenario.
All we can really hope for in Lee's rookie season is that he stays healthy and shows some progression with his catching ability.
The Worst Case Scenario for Marqise Lee's Rookie Season
The worst scenario that could possibly occur to Lee this season would be for him to continue to suffer from injuries, which would lead to him losing some very valuable experience and chance to develop with Bortles and the rest of the Jaguars offense.
He garnered the injury prone label in college, and for it to occur so early in his career in Jacksonville as well would be troublesome. He needs to prove he can stay healthy if he wants to prove his worth as the 39th overall pick. Period.
Reasonable Expectations for Marqise Lee's Rookie Season
I think it is only reasonable to expect that Lee will struggle some as a rookie. He's a first-year player, he has a history with injuries, he shows inconsistent hands, he'll either have a fellow rookie throwing him the ball or Chad Henne, and the rest of the offense is very young. There will be a lot of bumps along the road.
But Lee will also flash just the way he did at USC. Fisch will find ways to get the ball into Lee's hands, and Lee will create his own yards and make a few electric plays. There may be more downs than ups in Lee's rookie year, but that should be expected.
Overall Opinion of the Pick
I am likely in the minority, but I do not see Lee as the "steal" that most of the major media does. As a player, he is one that gives me a lot of pause. He flashes terrific ability with the ball in his hands, but between injuries and lapse in catching ability -- that I am not sure can be corrected -- Lee is a boom or bust type of player. He strikes me as a guy who will have some high peaks, but his low moments will be absolutely maddening. I do not love this player or pick, but he is in a good landing spot in terms of fit and culture and what he'll be asked to do.
Having two other competent receivers across from him in Cecil Shorts III and Allen Robinson could be his saving grace. I am more intrigued by Lee and his development than anything, because he has so many "plus and minus" traits, and I'm interested to see which traits win out.
Big thanks to Draftbreakdown.com, where you can find all of the film I used for this post, and all of my work.