Marqise Lee Must Separate Himself from Larger Receivers with Super Fast 40 Time

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IFebruary 22, 2014

Southern California wide receiver Marqise Lee celebrates a successful two point conversion as Stanford safety Jordan Richards looks on during the first half of their NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

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. 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

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. 

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

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. 

Sound familiar?

At the combine, Woods measured in at 6'0'' and 201 pounds and ran a "slow" 4.51 40-yard dash.

Sept. 8, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Robert Woods (2) celebrates with wide receiver Marqise Lee (9) after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby W
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

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.  


Size Concern?

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.

Guys like Steve Smith, Greg Jennings, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker instantly come to mind as examples of "short" receivers who've thrived at the professional level.

In spite of his smaller size, a handful of well-respected draftniks believe the USC star is one of the best receivers available:  

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

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 / SiteWR Rank
Matt Miller / Bleacher Report5
Walter Cherepinsky / Walter Football3
Dane Brugler / CBS Sports2
Eric Galko, Optimum Scouting2
Multiple Websites

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.