College Spotlight: Tuesday Afternoon Prospect

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

Let's head out West again to see who's on T.A.P. today.

If you've been banging the table over the past several years for the Carolina Panthers to draft a dynamic, home run threat receiver, then you should be thrilled with today's feature prospect. Allow me to introduce you to former Southern California standout Marqise Lee.

I'm curious, when you read his name, what were you thinking? I can't read minds, but I'd like to take a quick stab at answering my own question. My best guess would be that there were two contrary positions that prevailed above all others.

The first group of readers, upon seeing Lee's name, were ambivalently ecstatic because they believe he is one of the best receivers in the draft and can't imagine a scenario where he is still available at 28. The second camp of readers, who I imagine are in the minority, were horrified because they believe that the Panthers would be silly to even entertain the idea of drafting a Southern California wide-out based on their seemingly dubious history.

In response to the first group, I can understand your stance. The odds of a legitimate Star falling into the Panthers' lap at a position of immense need for the second year in a row are extremely low, especially that late in the first round. When you look at everything that Lee brings to the table, there's obviously a certain level of faith you have to embrace in order to envision him being available without trading up. Presently, I feel comfortable believing he could still be on the board because the vetting process is far from over. Who knows what could be revealed about him during the combine, his pro day and subsequent interviews(I'll touch on this in my conclusion)?

Even though the second group's viewpoint is a bit shortsighted, I must admit that I'm somewhat sympathetic to their cause. After all, who among us can deny the fact that there's a fairly lengthy list of former USC receivers who failed to live up to their correspondingly lofty early round expectations? Guys like R. Jay Soward, Mike Williams, Steve Smith, Keary Colbert, Dwayne Jarrett and Damian Williams are all examples of Trojan alumni who were(have been) either average at the height of their respective careers or utter flops altogether. Of course, it sure doesn't help that the Panthers were burned by drafting two of the players on this list.

If you belong in this second group, I hate to disappoint you, but Gettleman would never be foolish enough to remove a prospect from his draft board or drop a guy's value based entirely on where they went to school. He knows full well that an athlete's rise or demise at this stage in the process largely comes down to how badly they want it. Each player is a case by case study, and must be analyzed in a vacuum, regardless of college affiliations. With that being said, I am certain(99.9%) that Lee is on the Panthers' radar and I'll tell you why.

Simply put. He is a beast.

Speed

Is he fast? Yes, and it is his greatest asset. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage, which allows him to quickly achieve separation from his defender. Not only does Lee have the short area burst to win those man to man outside battles, but he also has that extra gear to slip through the narrowest of creases. Additionally, he is able to gain large chunks of real estate after the catch because he possesses tremendous open field vision and breakaway speed. There is no question in my mind that Lee would become our franchise quarterback's new best friend because of his natural ability to get open and his potential to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

Route Running

When it comes to route running, Lee is just scratching the surface. In other words, he isn't the technician that you'd hope for him to be at this point, but he does show promise. Although he rounds his routes off a bit more than you would like, he does get in and out of his breaks very quickly. In order to get everything out of his athleticism in the NFL, Lee will need to work diligently to improve some of the finer details of route running like setting defenders up and selling his routes. Despite the fact that he has yet to master many of the meticulous components and nuances of proper route running, he does appear to be considerably advanced in the knowledge and execution of nearly all the nine branches of the route tree. Curl, fade, post, out, dig, comeback - you name it and he can do it. The good news is that the flaws that do stand out are correctable.

Hands/Ball Skills

The Inglewood, California native will also need to work on his hands. Far too often, Lee uses his arms and body to catch the ball. Even so, he does an excellent job of using his extraordinary balance and body control in order to locate and haul in those tough over the shoulder catches. Lee doesn't drop the ball at an alarming rate, but when he does it's usually due to a lack of concentration. His gigantic catch radius assists him well when snatching errant passes from all directions and his incredible leaping ability nearly always allows him to high point the ball above the outstretched hands of the defender.

Blocking

Lee won't overwhelm anyone with his size, but he does display surprising strength. In fact, I was caught off guard while watching the blocking portion of his game film and I'll freely admit that I didn't expect to see what I did from the 6-Foot even, 195-Pound wide-out. Not only does he willingly block his man, but he does so with power, tenacity and legitimate effectiveness. From my perspective, he is well advanced as a blocker and only needs a negligible amount of fine tuning in this aspect of his game.

The Final Verdict

There's little doubt that Lee, like most prospects, is an unfinished product. With that being said, I believe he has the overall make-up to overcome his weaknesses and become a formidable number one target in the NFL. According to most reputable draft prognosticators, he simply won't get past some of the receiver hungry teams like the Rams at 13 and the Jets at 18. But we must always expect the unexpected when it comes to the draft and I'm confident that Gettleman will be prepared for every scenario.

Don't be deceived by Lee's dip in production during his final year at USC because this can almost exclusively be attributed to an early season knee injury that caused him to miss three games and limited him in six more. You can be sure that every decision maker at the combine will be zeroing in on that knee. This is one of those things that always reminds us that this process is fluid and unpredictable.

Please take the time to watch the video and view my latest mock draft. Be sure to let everyone know what you think. All opinions are welcome, especially if they are seasoned with humility and respect.

WR Marqise Lee's Career Stats

Year Games Receptions Yards Yards/Rec Touchdowns
2011 12 73 1,143 15.66 11
2012 13 118 1,721 14.58 14
2013 11 57 791 13.88 4




2014 Carolina Panthers Mock Draft 6.0

Round Prospect Height Weight College
1st WR Marqise Lee 6' 0" 195 Southern California
2nd OT Morgan Moses 6' 6" 325 Virginia
3rd CB Terrance Mitchell 6' 0" 190 Orgegon
4th WR Brandon Coleman 6' 5" 220 Rutgers
5th DT Justin Ellis 6' 2" 342 Louisiana Tech
6th FS Marqueston Huff 5' 11" 198 Wyoming
7th TE Joe Don Duncan 6' 3" 267 Dixie State
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