It seems like everyone is riding the Sammy Watkins bandwagon this draft season, and I get it -- I think Sammy Watkins is a stud -- but I think Marqise Lee is being overlooked among this year's top wide receiver prospects.
Lee could be the best receiver available in a draft that includes intriguing pass catchers like Watkins, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin, who should all have their names called before the end of Round One. These are rare talents, but I've been on the Lee bandwagon a long time and I didn't hop off it as he battled injuries during the 2013 season.
He wasn't just dealing with injuries last season. There was quarterback uncertainty early in the season at USC. He endured a coaching change, which was coupled with a change in play-callers (Lane Kiffin had called plays before he was fired). Not surprisingly, Lee's numbers dipped from their remarkable 2012 form, when he won the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top wide receiver after making 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. He finished '13 with 57 grabs for 791 yards and four TDs, and he heads into the NFL Scouting Combine looking to prove that he's much more of a playmaker than those numbers suggest.
I'm interested to see what he runs in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, because I've had scouts tell me, "We think he's fast, but we wonder if some of his speed is build-up speed," suggesting that he might not be as sudden or quick off the line of scrimmage as expected.
When I watch Lee, and I have had the opportunity to see him up-close, I see an extremely fluid, tremendous athlete whose best days are still ahead of him. I think he will do very well at the combine, but he won't just be a "workout wonder," and there are things that Lee will do that don't show up in agility drills.
Lee's position coach at USC, Tee Martin, told me around midseason that the thing that people are going to overlook about Lee is how well he plays without the football. He will run his routes even if he is not the primary target. He will block downfield, too. One other thing to keep in mind about Lee -- his kick-return ability isn't to be underestimated.
He might not be able to match Watkins' speed and he can't match the size of Evans and Benjamin, but I expect Lee, who also competed as a long-jumper on the Trojans' track team, will test well across the board at the combine and might even have some NFL teams examining whether they should move him up at least a few notches on their draft boards.