Late Friday night, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee announced that he will forgo his senior year and enter the 2014 NFL draft.
The junior wide receiver leaves USC with 248 receptions for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career. He owns or shares 22 USC records and leaves college as the only Biletnikoff Award winner in school history.
Though hampered by injury for most of 2013, he still remained one of the Trojans' most exciting and prolific playmakers. This season, he had just 57 receptions for 791 yards and four touchdowns (the lowest marks of his college career). In the Trojans' Las Vegas Bowl, however, he really put on a show and gave NFL scouts a taste of what they can expect from him at the next level.
His early departure from USC comes as no surprise, as CBSSports.com projects him to be a first-round pick.
Of note, athletic director Pat Haden cited "continuity" as a reason for hiring Steve Sarkisian back in December as reported by Garry Paskwietz of ESPN. Since then, four of USC's juniors (Lee, safety Dion Bailey, defensive tackle George Uko and offensive lineman Marcus Martin) have all chosen to declare for the NFL.
With Lee now officially out of the mix, the USC wide receiver corps will undoubtedly be led by Nelson Agholor, the sophomore phenom who has shown he is ready to be the next big thing for the Trojans. He led USC in receptions and touchdowns in 2013, and we can expect him to do the same next year.
Aside from Agholor, though, things are a little less clear.
Darreus Rogers looked like a stud at times, but injuries have hampered his progression in 2013. 2014 could be a breakout year for him, as depth issues will give way to lots of time for the young receiver. Then there's the oft-injured George Farmer, Steven Mitchell—who missed this year due to an ACL injury—and Victor Blackwell, the only other scholarship receiver to catch a pass during the 2013 campaign.
These three should all be healthy and ready to compete during spring ball, and current Trojan commit Shay Fields Jr. could also be in the mix, bringing more depth to the position.
But the loss of Lee, though expected, surely has to impact Sarkisian's 2014 strategy just a bit.
Beyond just the wide receiver corps, the departure of Lee could mean more receptions for the tight ends. Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer have often been neglected as ball-catchers, though their big frames and sticky hands make them excellent targets.
At Washington, we saw Sarkisian utilize Austin Seferian-Jenkins almost as much as his wide receivers, making him a staple playmaker of the Huskies offense. Grimble and Telfer are perhaps the most talented tight end tandem in the Pac-12; now is the time for Sarkisian to really let them put their talents on full display.
They weren't used a ton as pass-catchers in the 2013 offense but will be in good position to see more balls come their way in 2014.
Because USC won't have Lee as a deep threat anymore, the Trojans running backs will have to step their game up. Agholor has the potential to become that for USC, but in the meantime, the stable is really going to have to get better, due to the fact that opposing defenses will be able to key on the run. We know that breakout star Javorius "Buck" Allen is capable, but it will be important that Tre Madden and the rest of the running backs stiffen up during the offseason as well.
Though he will be sorely missed in the Trojans offense, Sarkisian is now in a position where he can really change up the way the Trojans move the ball, now that relying on Lee is not an option.
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