In the midst of an otherwise underwhelming offense, USC star receiver Marqise Lee continues to stand out as a top NFL draft prospect for the Trojans.
Coming off a season in which he racked up an incredible 118 receptions, 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns, it was safe to assume that his draft stock would be one of the most intriguing storylines for the Men of Troy this season.
Now three games into the season, it's becoming increasingly difficult to gauge where the receiver should stand on teams' draft boards. USC's offense struggled yet again as the Trojans mustered just 17 points to edge the Utah State Aggies, 17-14.
The 6'0", 195-pound receiver finished the day with a modest stat line of just six catches for 72 yards and no touchdowns while adding one rush for eight yards. However, Watkins hasn't fared too much better in the statistical department.
|Name||Rec.||Yards||Avg.||TDs||Team Passing Yards|
Statistics via ESPN
It's important to keep those numbers in context. Watkins has the benefit of playing with Tajh Boyd at quarterback and an offense that is clearly in much better shape than the fledgling USC unit that scored just seven points against Washington State and 17 against Utah State.
What's even more impressive is the percentage of yards that Lee has accounted for in the passing game. With Cody Kessler and Max Wittek struggling at the quarterback position, Lee's 221 yards has accounted for 45 percent of the Trojans' passing game through three games.
He's also now the second-most prolific receiver in USC history, according to USC Athletics.
USC WR Marqise Lee is now 2nd all-time on the Trojans career receiving yardage list passing Dwayne Jarrett today.— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) September 21, 2013
That doesn't mean there aren't concerns, though. Lee's slight frame is still an issue. As Dan Greenspan of NFL.com noted, Lee was shaken up in the first half and was forced to sit out for a while as doctors examined him.
USC WR Marqise Lee hobbling off after a third-down catch.— Dan Greenspan (@DanGreenspan) September 21, 2013
Obviously that's not a huge issue as he was able to re-enter the game and reclaim his spot as the Trojans' leading receiver. But it's something that NFL teams will look to evaluate as every nit gets picked by the time the draft rolls around.
Overall, Lee's performance should neither help nor hinder his draft stock. His 80-yard touchdown reception last week reminded scouts of his explosiveness. This nondescript performance should remind them of his dependability.
Whether he can continue to post respectable numbers without a quarterback that is able to utilize his big-play potential downfield is something that is yet to be seen. But at this juncture, Lee should still be considered a first-round talent at receiver, if only by virtue of his massive season with Matt Barkley at the helm in 2012.