While injuries and inconsistencies hampered Marqise Lee's final year at USC, the talent he flashed when he won the Biletnikoff Award during his sophomore year didn't just disappear. All of that game-breaking ability was still there when the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Lee 39th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
However, some of the same issues that plagued Lee's junior season at USC showed up again during his rookie year with the Jaguars. Drops and injuries derailed his season at times, and his overall production resembled more of his actual draft status rather than the first round talent the Trojan faithful knows he possesses.
The first thing that stood out to me was his lack of consistency catching the ball. Not just with difficult, contested catches, but on catches that should be routine.
Marqise Lee lined up in the slot on this play, and ran totally unencumbered down the field, splitting the safeties while the defense was in a cover-2 zone:
The throw was perfect, since it had to be a little behind Lee due to the safety coming toward him. It hits Lee right in the hands, and almost comically bounces away. Lee actually uses his hands perfectly here instead of trying to catch with his body (which we'll get to later), so it appears that a simple lack of concentration is rather at fault rather than a technical issue.
This one is a bit of a tougher catch, but still one that he's gotta come away with:
Even though there are defenders around Marqise Lee, neither of them actually directly impede his ability to catch the ball. The ball wasn't tipped, nor was there any defensive pass interference on this play. It hit him right in the hands, and he again just couldn't finish the job.
I noticed that Lee developed a bad habit for sometimes letting the ball get in too close to his body. He'll catch it with his abdomen instead of his hands.
And while it's okay and effective to do in some situations, it definitely isn't something a receiver wants to do consistently. Without the natural conformity of your hands, the ball will be more likely to bounce away when you try to catch with your body. In other words, the less a receiver uses his hands, the less control he has.
Catching with your body also minimizes the natural catch radius a receiver has:
Again, the receiver has little control and much less room for error.
Marqise Lee also had his moments of glory during his rookie season, like his touchdown catch:
And this contested catch, which is the most impressive play he made last year:
These plays simply go to show that he has the ability, just not the consistency yet.
Something I did see Marqise Lee consistently do was hold onto the ball through contact:
He wasn't scared of taking hits, and did a really good job throughout the year of holding onto the ball even when he knew contact was coming.
Lee had these same consistency issues with drops during his final season at Southern Cal, so his ball skills were the first thing I looked for on his tape. The next thing I examined was his ability to get off press coverage.
Press coverage by a defense can throw off the timing of an entire offensive play, so it's pretty important that a receiver can consistently be able to beat it.
While Marqise Lee wasn't terrible, he also wasn't particularly good at it. One thing I noticed is that he sometimes welcomes contact, which has to stop. We all know he is a tremendous athlete, and has awesome speed and quickness. However, he doesn't use that athleticism much when getting off the line for whatever reason.
Instead, he has the tendency to do stuff like this sometimes:
He's running a simple slant, but tries to overpower his defender instead of beating him with athleticism. 'Qise isn't particularly big or strong relative to other NFL players, so he honestly shouldn't be doing this. He has a much better advantage in the quickness game, using a little stutter-step or other fancy footwork he's so good at.
He also has the tendency to be predictable in his route running. Here, he slows down, telegraphing the fact that he's about to run a comeback route:
He was too coverable at times during the season, seemingly for this reason. Again, he needs to use that quick change-of-direction ability better. From what I saw at USC, Lee has the rare ability to go from full-speed to full-stop, and he needs to put a little of that, and maybe even more effort, into his routes.
While he isn't great at getting off press coverage yet, his ability once he gets a nice head of steam is fun to watch. Check him out as he totally turns his defender around on this corner route:
Honestly, after watching Marqise Lee's rookie season, he looked pretty much like what you'd expect a rookie wide receiver to look like. He looks like he's thinking too much at times, but the game will definitely slow down for him as his career progresses.
When given a little space to work with, Lee showed the game-breaking ability he had at USC. But a main issue for him now is creating that space for himself. Defensive backs are a lot better in the NFL than they were in college, so Lee will have to work on the little things (i.e. getting off press, route running) if he wants to get better.
Something he will definitely have to address is his catching issues. It has plagued him for two years in a row now, and he simply has to get it fixed if he wants to be more than a role player.
The Jaguars will have a nice wealth of receivers next year, with Justin Blackmon coming off a suspension and Allen Robinson coming back from injury. Cecil Shorts III may leave via free agency, but Allen Hurns will surely be clamoring for a bigger role too. Lee will have his work cut out for him just to get playing time, but refining his game should go a long way to improving his game and getting up to the level we all know he can play at.