Marqise Lee is the best wide receiver in college football and it's not even close. Never mind all of the individual awards and the records he continues to break, Lee is a special player who has a bright future once he finishes school (or leaves early, of course).
Lee is a game-changer and widely considered the top NFL prospect at his position. But what makes him stand out when there are so many great receivers? How is there such a wide gap between Lee and the rest of the pack?
The USC receiver does a lot of things correctly, but there are two things that truly put him in a class of his own.
Plays Bigger Than He Is
Whatever height you want to go with, Lee is considered small by NFL standards and many scouts are going to have a hard time imagining him as a true No. 1 option on the outside. Lee seems like he is the perfect fit to play on the inside just off of his size alone.
The tricky part is that Lee doesn't play like a small receiver.
That size is a little difficult to believe. It is a lot like speed with football players. Some guys don't produce a blazing 40-yard dash time, but seem a lot faster once they put the pads on. That's Lee when it comes to size. He is small on the field, but anybody that has tried to cover him would tell you otherwise.
Lee high points the ball better than any receiver in the country. He finds the ball and is able to time his jump to perfection. This has more to do with a natural feel than anything, as some players just know when to go up and get it. Here you see Lee against a Syracuse corner, who is stuck on an island trying to cover the best receiver in the country.
Not only does Lee jump a little bit after the corner does, he jumps what seems to be about a good foot higher than the defensive back. Being able to time his jump exactly gives Lee a huge advantage over whoever is covering him. While he may be smaller than a lot of the corners and safeties out there, his leaping ability and timing is fabulous.
The ability to jump through the stadium gives Lee the advantage in jump balls and makes him tougher to cover.
Players such as De'Anthony Thomas and Sammy Watkins will come up when discussing athleticism and speed, but the same things that make those two players great, makes Lee great as well. He may not be as fast as the Black Mamba and Watkins may have a slight advantage with his elusiveness, but Lee's athleticism is elite in its own right.
Most defenses choose to play off Lee and give him at least a five-yard cushion because of his terrific straight line speed. He is so quick off the line that he is able to beat press coverage and get by the corner, making the safety's job extremely difficult.
The problem is that Lee is a nightmare once he catches the ball. If you want to play off him, you better have reliable tacklers who are able to keep the USC receiver in front of them. This wasn't the case against Arizona, as Lee was able to break free on a dig route. All of those defenders chasing him grabbed air and were forced to watch him trot into the end zone.
Lee has top notch straight line speed and his long strides allow him to hit another gear in just a few steps. He accelerates so effortlessly and can create separation in the matter of seconds. Lee has no problem beating defenses over the top and often outruns both the corner and the safety, who both probably thought they were in perfect position to make a play on the ball.
Asking a defensive back to cover Lee in man coverage is absolute suicide and even using two players has proven to be difficult. You have to take the correct angles and be a wonderfully disciplined player to limit the star receiver.
Of course, easier said than done.
Along with Lee's sure hands, crisp route running and ability to make plays after the catch, it is his superb athleticism and ability to high point the football that makes him special.
Note: All screenshots were pulled from YouTube video uploaded by user MockingNFLDraft.