Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
6-0, 192 pounds
2013 stats: 57 catches, 791 yards, 4 TDs
40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds
The good: See those stats above? Definitely not befitting a guy who is considered a first-round prospect. They don't tell the whole story. In 2012, Lee was phenomenal and it seemed like he would be considered the can't-miss top-10 receiver in this class, a role Sammy Watkins has assumed.
In 2012, with Matt Barkley at quarterback, Lee had 118 catches, 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yes, more than double his output last season. He was dominant, and a 16-catch, 345-yard game against Arizona went in the history books and clinched the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver. He looked fluid, athletic, caught the ball well and did great things after the catch. But, because of the NFL's unfair rule that a player needs to be in college three years before he can enter the draft, Lee was stuck in school for 2013. But what could possibly go wrong?
The bad: In 2013 just about everything went wrong. He had knee and shoulder injuries that seemed to affect him all year, and he missed three games. USC had some quarterback uncertainty, which didn't help, although it should be noted that USC's top two quarterbacks were each among the best in their recruiting class. They went through a midseason coaching change as well. All of a sudden questions about Lee's size and durability arose, as did questions about his focus after some drops. And although a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the combine isn't awful, it's not anything great for a receiver without elite size. Can he get off the line against NFL cornerbacks? And if he does, can he outrun them? He plays faster in pads than he ran at the combine, but his big plays were against Pac-12 competition. The pedestrian output last season as a junior has to be a concern to any team thinking about using a first-round pick on Lee.
The verdict: Although Lee has slipped, he still seems to be a good bet to go late in the first round. A team like Carolina, San Francisco or Seattle will put on the 2012 tape and talk themselves into the unbelievable plays and production they see, chalking up 2013 to uneven quarterback play and injuries. Besides, Watkins had a bad season in college too and it hasn't hurt him, because fortunately for Watkins it was his sophomore year and not his final impression for NFL teams. At least Lee had a good final game, getting 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Las Vegas Bowl after he was able to rest for a few weeks and heal up. Because he was so good in 2012, don't rule him out being a very productive NFL receiver, though it would probably be best if he landed on a team that already has a reliable possession receiver on the other side.
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