Baltimore Ravens Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Marqise Lee

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIApril 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

With just over two weeks away until the 2014 NFL draft commences, the Baltimore Ravens are carefully examining whom they could land with their first-round pick.

They've had several visits with wide receiver prospects, and that could be the position they use the no. 17 pick on. 

Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Martavis Bryant (Clemson) and Marqise Lee (USC) are WRs with whom the Ravens have had confirmed visits. Looking at how poorly the passing game was for Baltimore in 2013, it's easy to see why the team would want to add another reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Outside of Torrey Smith, no other receiver had more than 524 receiving yards in '13. Ravens wideouts only caught 13 touchdowns, and 11 of them were between Torrey and undrafted free agent Marlon Brown.

The Ravens need to add more playmakers to help improve an offense that ranked 29th in total yards, 25th in scoring, and 31st in passing yards per attempt (6.2) in '13. 

It didn't take long for Baltimore to sign Steve Smith to a three-year deal once the Carolina Panthers cut him, and he will certainly help boost the Ravens WR unit. 

Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) makes a touchdown catch against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown (25) during the first half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America S

Looking at Smith's 2013 numbers (745 yards and four TDs), it's easy to see he'll provide depth at the position. With 836 career receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns, Smith is a proven playmaker but an aging one at that.

Smith will turn 35 on May 12, and it's rare that WRs have productive seasons at that age. B/R's own Matt Miller ranked Smith as the no. 33 WR in 2013, and his skills will likely diminish further in 2014. 

Miller also ranked Torrey Smith as the no. 28 WR, so it's not as though he's an elite playmaker either. Adding another WR in this year's draft could be exactly what this offense needs to improve significantly in '14.

If the Ravens have the chance to get a great receiver prospect in the draft, they can't afford to let him slip through their fingers. 

That's where USC's Marqise Lee could come into play. Once viewed as this year's best WR prospect, injuries and inconsistent QB play led to a down year for him.

Lee suffered a minor knee injury during spring practices in '13, and he later reaggravated the injury during the '13 season, causing him to miss three games and was limited in several other games. He still managed to grab 57 catches for 791 yards (13.9 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Over his three years at USC, Lee caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns.

He's the kind of playmaker the Ravens can't afford to pass on if they have the chance to get him. With the Ravens first pick coming at No. 17, Lee has a good chance of still being on the board. If he is, he should be the pick.

At 6'0" and 192 pounds, he's a speedster that can torture opposing defenses while lining up at any WR spot. He possesses the speed to to stretch the field and keep defenses from double-teaming Smith as they did last year. 

Drafting Lee is what the Ravens need to do if they want to improve their passing game in '14 and give Flacco another playmaker, something he didn't have enough of in '13.

If they're going to continue to pay him like an elite QB, they need to start giving him more weapons to throw to. Lee will be just that if Baltimore calls his name on draft day.