It wasn't nearly what he envisioned when entering his junior season, but former USC standout Marqise Lee is officially an NFL receiver. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Lee with the 39th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, ending a mildly surprising free fall for the man whom many considered the best receiver in college football before last season.
CBS' Jason La Canfora had the news:
The Jags took WR Marqise Lee— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) May 9, 2014
Lee wasn't the first receiver to come off the board, taken behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks. The 2014 draft is one of the deepest in recent memory at the receiver position, but that's likely no consolation to someone like Lee, who saw himself going far higher than No. 39 when he exited USC a year early.
Coming off a 1,721-yard sophomore season in which he won the Biletnikoff Award, some expected Lee to become the first wideout to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard in 2013. At the very least, he was considered a borderline lock to be a top-10 draft pick and compete with Watkins to be the first wideout off the board.
None of those things happened.
Lee, hampered by a bothersome knee injury, suffered through by far the worst season of his collegiate career and saw his draft stock waver. He made 57 receptions for 791 yards and four touchdowns, setting career lows across the board while seeing his yards-per-catch average drop for the third straight year.
Some of that can be attributed to the drop in quality of play from Matt Barkley to Cody Kessler. While Barkley was one of the most effective quarterbacks in college football as a senior, Kessler was hamstrung by a more conservative game plan and his own shortcomings as a passer.
Lee's injury issues didn't make the transition any easier. He missed two full games and parts of numerous others, and he was obviously less than 100 percent whenever he was on the field. USC went 10-4 during a campaign defined by internal coaching strife and an, at times, totally inept offense.
What is Lee's ceiling in the NFL?
Despite his poor season, Lee came into the draft process with at the very least a comparable stock to Evans, though both were soundly behind Watkins in the eyes of most. But his average size combined with a shaky 40-yard dash time (4.52 seconds, via NFL.com) compound an already hurting draft stock. Scouts can overlook mediocre on-the-field numbers for a physical marvel or can convince themselves a productive wideout is better than the combine splits.
Given Lee's disappointing junior-year tape and his less-than-stellar workout numbers, it was a perfect storm for a drop. And that might be the best possible news for Jacksonville.
While he's probably not the No. 1 receiver many envisioned in 2012, Lee has all the tools to be an elite No. 2 and translate to the pro game right away. He has a complex route tree, runs crisp routes and has perhaps the best hands of anyone in the class.
“My film speaks for itself,” Lee told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I know what type of player I am and I know what I can do. I know my capabilities,"
We'll have to see if those capabilities can translate to Sundays.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: