Since Reggie Bush was slicing through defenses like Neo in The Matrix and dodging Pac-10 defenders seven years ago, USC has been unsuccessfully scouring the high school ranks for a clone. It turns out that Tailback U. may have found their answer at the wrong position.
Watch junior receiver Marqise Lee zigzag through defenses or snatch lob passes at their peak and you’ll catch a glimpse of the Men of Troy’s Bush/Keyshawn Johnson hybrid. On their first play from scrimmage of the 2012 season, Matt Barkley and Lee connected on a 75-yard catch-and-run scamper that began with Lee stutter-stepping inside at the 28 before hitting the turbo down the sidelines. Nobody would catch him for the rest of season.
“I think he’ll be the best one ever when it’s all said and done.” Lane Kiffin gloated after their season opening win at Hawaii.
Junior receiver Robert Woods was considered a fav for the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver, but from that point on, he became secondary while Lee took it home for himself by recording 118 catches for 1721 yards with 14 touchdowns.
USC has accomplished almost everything a program can ever hope to, but it hasn’t seen a receiver of Lee’s caliber kicking up grass or turf in the cardinal and gold. The program that produced Keyshawn, Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett is getting its records obliterated by Lee. He’s closing in on the Trojans’ career receptions and receiving yardage records, and he already shattered the single game mark with 345 yards before last Halloween against Arizona.
Woods and Barkley’s draft stock may have faded, but Mel Kiper Jr. now has Lee positioned at No. 3 on his 2014 Big Board behind Teddy Bridgewater and South Carolina’s offensive wrecking ball Jadeveon Clowney. Here’s the thing, though: Don’t laser his name into another Fred Biletnikoff Award just yet.
Lee didn’t just eclipse receiver Robert Woods’ star on the national hierarchy as a sophomore; Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins rolled into the 2012 season after joining college football VIPs Herschel Walker, Adrian Peterson and Marshall Faulk as the only freshman in history to be named AP First-Team All-Americans.
A two-game suspension for blazing up to start his sophomore campaign, coupled with the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins, put a damper on Watkins’ sophomore season. But the thinking is that he’ll return to his freshman prominence after the departure of Hopkins. Like Lee, Watkins can also take the spark from what should be a short yardage gain and engulf secondaries in flames while he blazes his own trail to the end zone.
NFL scouts are now mentioning Lee’s name in the same breath as NFL All-Pros Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but Watkins is coming back for the No. 1 spot.
While USC’s quarterback situation remains unsettled, Lee will probably get more national burn because of Clemson’s top-10 national ranking and the return of Heisman favorite Tahj Boyd at quarterback.
Watkins’ straight-line, 0-60 acceleration is superior; but on the other hand, Lee counters with hands that swallow passes like a black hole, precise route-running and the shiftiness to cross over defenders A.I-style.
You can’t go wrong with either wideout, but if it’s fourth and long and your quarterback needed to entrust a receiver on the other end of a throw, it’s hard to believe in a receiver other than Lee. Watkins’ Fred Biletnikoff award battle with Lee is cool and all, but Lee should be prepared for his invitation to a more significant trophy ceremony.