2014 NFL Draft: WR Marqise Lee shows great instincts

Stephen Dunn

Quarterbacks making plays off-schedule is all the rage now, and Lee shows flashes of brilliance in that kind of a game. Fitting him with an outstanding improv quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger could be a great fit.

The age-old argument of who makes who better, quarterbacks or receivers, takes on a new permutation in Pittsburgh.

What receiver can help Ben Roethlisberger help that receiver?

Clearly, Antonio Brown mastered that in 2013, grabbing a franchise record 1,499 yards, and 110 catches, the second highest mark in Steelers history. A good amount of that is caused by a cerebral passer who checked out of plays to get the ball to Brown outside, a strategy developed to supplant a weak Steelers rushing attack through much of the year.

But some of the big plays Roethlisberger and Brown made, not to mention other ones to Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller, weren't exactly planned.

By midseason, the Steelers' offense had really begun figuring things out. It wasn't necessarily planned for the play to break down, but if Roethlisberger's initial read wasn't there, he could buy time for his receivers to execute a secondary plan, of sorts - something he's done much of his career.

It's a trait that takes savvy, coordination and instinct, all contributed between the receivers and Roethlisberger.

USC wide receiver Marquise Lee is said to be one of the more pro ready receivers available in the 2014 NFL Draft. Watching him on film, he's a whole lot of decent.

His route-running is decent. His speed is decent. His athleticism may be above decent while his strength is below decent.

But his highest and best trait is his instincts. It's also the trait that would fit in the best with the Steelers.

Along those same lines, Lee is a brawler. He's not actually swinging at guys or anything, but he fights hard, whether it's in a route or while blocking or in the air. It seems like Lee is incredibly confident with his ability when the ball is in his hands, almost like a lankier version of Antwaan Randle El.

At the risk of being cliche, he really plays the game with that lunch pail mentality; a workmanlike approach to everything he's doing. Above all else, though, his instincts suggest he can fit well with an improvisational quarterback.

In USC's bowl game against Fresno State, Lee is lined up to the left of center in the slot. He's running a simple 15-and-in, and runs a pretty decent route, drawing man under coverage. He sees his quarterback begin to flush a bit to his left, and while the common thought would be to keep rolling with him, Lee cuts back sharply to the backside, knowing he drew two defenders with him and the wide receiver had single coverage on that side - creating a huge bubble in which USC had two receivers and FSU had one defender.

USC's quarterback sees it, and hits Lee after stepping up in the pocket. It's a big gain for USC.

Perhaps more impressive, Lee travels approximately 55 yards to make the catch - 16 from the slot to his break, and roughly 19 yards to the right before coming back another 19 yards to where he started, making the catch, and gaining yards after it.

That in itself may not be enough to justify his selection at No. 15 to the Steelers, but these are the kinds of plays that are beginning to dictate offensive scheme more and more, and receivers that can play with that level of awareness will have statistics that far outmeasure their physical characteristics.

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