With the incredible depth of the 2014 wide receiver draft class, Marqise Lee has to find a way to stand out.
A year ago, he was the most electrifying wide receiver in college football.
Despite a regression from quarterback Matt Barkley, Lee made 118 receptions for 1,712 yards with 14 touchdowns, en route to winning the Biletnikoff Award as the country's best wideout.
That incredibly productive campaign came after a 73-grab, 1,143-yard, 11-touchdown effort in 2011 as a true freshman.
There's no doubting his dynamic run-after-the-catch ability in the open field, short-area burst and in-game long speed.
However, the transition from Barkley, the seasoned vet, to the inexperienced Cody Kessler, coupled with nagging injuries, prompted a relatively discouraging 2013 season for Lee.
He appeared in 11 games and snagged 57 passes for 791 yards with four receiving scores.
Following Robert Woods' Footsteps?
Oftentimes, we force same-school comparisons that eventually fall flat.
But while Lee and former teammate Robert Woods are probably not identical, their paths to the NFL have been eerily similar up to this point.
In 2010, Woods started as a true freshman for the Trojans and made a major impact, catching 65 passes for 792 yards with six touchdowns.
The 2011, he exploded in USC's offense—that also featured Lee—with 111 catches for 1,292 yards and a whopping 15 touchdown receptions.
Less than three years removed from high school, Woods had to stay at Southern Cal.
Riding a considerable wave of hype into the 2012 campaign, USC struggled to maintain their preseason No. 1 ranking.
Woods got dinged during the season and finished with a "disappointing" 76-catch, 846-yard, 11-touchdown stat line.
Questions were raised about the ankle injury that nagged him.
At the combine, Woods measured in at 6'0'' and 201 pounds and ran a "slow" 4.51 40-yard dash.
Due to his lack of a large, "box-out" frame, subpar final collegiate season and somewhat discouraging 40 time, Woods fell to the second round of the 2013 draft.
In 14 games for the Buffalo Bills as a rookie—a team that labored through vast injuries at the quarterback position and had three different starters throughout the course of the season—Woods caught 40 passes for 587 yards with three scores. Factoring in the signal-caller situation, he had a fine rookie year.
If Lee follows Woods' route to the NFL, it shouldn't be viewed as a letdown, but after the former's phenomenal 2012, he likely has his sights set on being selected in the first round.
Kelvin Benjamin. Mike Evans. Allen Robinson. Jordan Matthews. Davante Adams—the "top" receivers in the 2014 draft class who are considerably taller and bulkier than Lee.
Marqise Lee 5'11 3/4 192— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 21, 2014
Needs a good 40 at that size IMO to get into 1st “@MoveTheSticks: Marqise Lee 5'11 3/4 192”— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) February 21, 2014
Being under 6'0'' isn't a death sentence for a wideout in the NFL.
In spite of his smaller size, a handful of well-respected draftniks believe the USC star is one of the best receivers available:
Then again, the recent trend of large, "high-pointing" receivers in the NFL—Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green—may hurt how Lee is perceived by the majority of general managers, scouts and head coaches.
Lee certainly proved to have the ability to make tough catches, but his smaller body type could scare some teams away if larger pass-catching options are available.
What Scouts Will Look For at the Combine
Speed. And more speed.
|Marqise Lee Positional Draft Rankings|
|Ranker / Site||WR Rank|
|Matt Miller / Bleacher Report||5|
|Walter Cherepinsky / Walter Football||3|
|Dane Brugler / CBS Sports||2|
|Eric Galko, Optimum Scouting||2|
If Lee truly believes he's a first-round prospect, he'll want to run faster than Woods did—4.51—a year ago.
However, the game film shows that Lee was a slightly more explosive player than Woods, although both had a success as return men early in their USC careers.
With big-bodied pass-catchers like Evans and Benjamin not expected to run particularly slowly, Lee must separate himself with a faster 40.
He'll be selling his acceleration and top gear in the open field much more than his ability to snag jump balls against cornerbacks and safeties.