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2014 NFL Draft Report; Nightmare season for USC’s Lee might not crush draft status badly

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

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USC WR Marqise Lee (USA Today Sports Images)



Needless to say, this season hasn’t gone to plan for USC All-American Marqise Lee. After putting up insane numbers for a receiver last season, including this epic game against Arizona, Lee has seen his statistics plummet.

Injuries, coaching upheaval and inconsistent quarterback play are the chief reasons. But Lee is not above reproach — he dropped a pass in the end zone of a four-point loss at Notre Dame, and later aggravated his balky knee in the game.

Tough season. Things like this can happen to great players — especially at the receiver position, which is so dependent on the play of others (mostly quarterbacks) to be consistently productive.

"Perfect pass, perfect D," Lee said, via the Los Angeles Times. "Lost concentration, that's really about it. Looked it in, thought I had it sealed and took my eyes off it. And as I took my eyes off it, it rolled right down my leg."

As for Lee’s draft stock, there are a few considerations to look at.

One, the injury doesn’t appear serious, although he certainly could be do further damage if he continues playing and the stability of the knee has been compromised. Second, scouts will recognize the dropoff from Matt Barkley last season to Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. And third, the team situation clearly is out of Lee’s control and will be factored in.

A strong scouting combine and pro day workout could assuage on-the-fence scouts. Right now, he’s a first-round prospect — vying with Clemson’s Sammy Watkins for top honors in this class — and perhaps a high one.

Lee might want to consider pulling the plug on his season if the knee gets worse. Few would question him with so much at stake. At 4-3 with a few tough games remaining, the Trojans are headed for a lower-level bowl game, and Lee could tarnish his draft stock with further injury.

It would be a tough decision to sit, but perhaps a smart one.

The premature 2014 mock draft, picks 1-16 (order based on inverse of current power rankings)

1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
No, I am not trolling. Sure, most folks have rubber-stamped Teddy Bridgewater to the Jags, and it would be doubtful he fell much farther than the third pick. But Mariota has so impressed to this point that he could overtake the spot. We’re not writing anything into stone here.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater

If Greg Schiano is fired, it’s not likely that a new coach will come in and say, “Mike Glennon has the starting job” without bringing in his own guy. This could be some other guy's guy for sure.

3. Minnesota Vikings

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South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney (USA Today Sports Images)

South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
At this moment, this would not work. Could Jared Allen be traded in the offseason to a contender? Certainly. Then you’d have Clowney opposite Brian Robison and across from Sharrif Floyd in a new-blood defensive front. And by the way: Clowney has been far better this season than many are giving him credit.

4. New York Giants
Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews

You know they’d love Clowney. They’d settle for Matthews, we think.

5. St. Louis Rams
UCLA LB Anthony Barr
Safety might be the bigger position of need on defense, but Barr has some Jevon Kearse-like skills at linebacker that could intrigue Jeff Fisher enough at this point.

6. St. Louis Rams (pick traded from Washington Redskins to Rams)
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan

With no quarterback at this point worth taking (although don’t rule out a trade down; or we could see them going for someone like A.J. McCarron, just not here), we’ll go with the safe pick at a need position. Lewan can play right tackle and give the Rams Wolverine bookends.

7. Arizona Cardinals
LSU QB Zach Metterberger

Sure, he has been a little off the past few games, but this is a strong-armed quarterback who fits the mold of a Bruce Arians passer now that it’s clear Carson Palmer is a stopgap.

8. Oakland Raiders

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Texas A&M WR Mike Evans (USA Today Sports Images)

Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
Someone like Alabama’s C.J. Mosley could be in play, but the recent misfire (under Al Davis, mind you) of Rolando McClain from the same school with the same number pick could be enough to dissuade them from that choice. Plus, off-the-line linebackers seldom go this high.

9. Philadelphia Eagles
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

Admit it: This combo would be bonkers. We’ll keep cramming it down your throats until you agree, and Nick Foles has yet to convince everyone he’s Chip Kelly’s guy.

9. Houston Texans
Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III

Tough spot to project, and a quarterback most certainly is in play here. But this would be a huge upgrade over Earl Mitchell, and Nix would  allow J.J. Watt to run more unimpeded to the quarterback. Rhetorical: Does Watt need more help? A staff change might change this projection.

10. Buffalo Bills
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
A top three at receiver of Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Watkins? Who needs a pass-catching tight end?! E.J. Manuel would be pleased.

11. Baltimore Ravens
USC WR Marqise Lee

Just when everyone starts poking holes in a superb prospect’s stock, Ozzie Newsome is there waiting with a Band-Aid and a draft card in each hand.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio

This is more of a need pick, and perhaps a reach, based on the way Kouandjio has played to date. He looks more like a late first-round pick, not the No. 12 prospect. But the Steelers are desperate.

13. Tennessee Titans

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Alabama LB C.J. Mosley (USA Today Sports Images)

Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
No offense to Moise Fokou, but there’s a need inside. Colin McCarthy is a nice enough player, but he has quality special teamer/nickel linebacker written all over him. The versatile Mosley can do a lot for this budding defense.

14. Atlanta Falcons
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack

Too high? We beg to differ. A defensive lineman might be a bigger need, but the Falcons might not be able to pass on a dynamic player such as Mack, who would be great opposite Sean Weatherspoon. The Stephen Nicholas thing has run its course.

15. Cleveland Browns
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
I wrestled with this pick because I am not certain Boyd would be their guy, but I also know how much pressure this organization faces to find a quarterback. I also feel that Boyd won't tumble too far in the draft, despite his struggles (see below). Maybe that QB comes to the Browns with their second first-round pick, via Indianapolis.

16. Chicago Bears
Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

GM Phil Emery has taken some character risks in the past two drafts, and really, NFL people don’t appear too concerned about Clinton-Dix’s two-game suspension, which came from borrowing money from a strength coach. The biggest fit here is the position, and he might be the best player at a need position.

RISING
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Holy moly, did you watch him on Thursday? Ebron shredded the Miami Hurricanes, and he did so with a captive audience: five NFL general managers and nearly three dozen scouts requested credentials for the game, and they were not in Chapel Hill for the gorgeous campus or great food.

With a school-record 199 receiving yards and a score, Ebron tickled the NFL folks’ imaginations for what he can be, in an era when seam-splitting tight ends are all the rage. He’s not massive at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, and won’t make a living as an in-line blocker full time. But Ebron’s athleticism and hands have him firmly in the first-round discussion. Some zealots even have gone so far as to compare Ebron to the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham, although Ebron has nowhere near Graham's size.

FALLING

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Clemson QB Tajh Boyd (USA Today Sports Images)

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
No two ways about it — Boyd struggled mightily against Florida State last Saturday. Yes, it was a top-flight defense he was facing, but the number of poor throws and decisions was startling. Combine that with the fact that Boyd's less than ideal size at 6-foot-1 (we think), and you suddenly have a volatile draft stock.

Boyd should remain in the first-round picture because he's a great athlete and he can throw a nice ball most games. Plus, one game is not going to completely undercut Boyd’s stock. NFL scouts, for instance, were concerned with Geno Smith’s Kansas State tape last year, but that was not the sole reason he was picked 39th and not, say, in the top 15 picks.

But you can forget about the gambling rumors surrounding Boyd’s name. His coach, Dabo Swinney, has flatly denied them.

OTHER DRAFT TIDBITS

Minnesota DT Ra’shede Hageman told NFL.com he emulates his game after the Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh and the Texans’ Watt, even if the former tight end isn’t quite on their level yet. Still, the 6-foot-6, 311-pound penetrator, who almost came out for the draft last season, is considered a first-round possibility after maintaining a high level of play this season. … South Florida DE Aaron Lynch originally came to Notre Dame a hyped prospect, but he has slid below the national radar since transferring. That said, his play — he dominated UConn last week — shows that he’s an NFL-grade talent as a pass rusher. … Florida’s tough season got tougher with the loss to Missouri, but don’t downgrade CB Louchiez Purifoy for what’s happening there. In a shorthanded secondary, which has been shellacked by injury and one that lost Cody Riggs on the first play of last week’s game for a targeting penalty, Purifoy has continued standing tall. He was rarely attacked by Tigers backup QB Maty Mauk (smartly) and has continued playing well, despite everything around him. Purifoy is an exceptional athlete with good cover skills and special-teams ability. He’ll still be highly sought in the 2014 draft.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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