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Marqise Lee Poised to be Top Rookie WR in 2014
Image credit to NeonTommy/Flickr
Image credit to NeonTommy/Flickr

In the aftermath of Jacksonville’s decision to select Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the 2014 NFL Draft, many believed Robinson would quickly emerge as the better player and better fantasy prospect. Robinson has been Jon Moore’s top prospect, and he finished as the No. 7 player in our Composite Rookie Rankings. Moreover, every single ranker had Robinson higher than Lee. The Jags’ higher pick finished No. 15.

Robinson may be the better long term prospect, but Lee would appear to be the superior short term play.



Should we target Lee merely based on opportunity? Kelvin Benjamin is poised to be a rookie starter, but, as Justin Winn recently pointed out, targeting anti-RotoViz Reach players is bad practice. Here’s a story about Warren Buffett you’ve probably heard.

He’s playing golf with a bunch of people and they all bet a dollar on a particular hole. Buffett won’t bet. “Why not, Warren?” they ask him, “you’re worth a gazillion.” He said, “I never break my discipline.”

I expect Benjamin to start but not be particularly good. Why? By a recent Fantasy Douche study, he dominated one single game in college. If you want to play the Panthers receiving game, target Greg Olsen or use your last round pick on Jerricho Cotchery. Benjamin may surprise us. Jon Moore has uncovered two potential reasons he could be a steal, but I’d rather not break discipline even if that means seeing Benjamin put up points for someone else.

Marqise Lee Superstar?

We’re now fairly used to the idea that Lee’s epic 2012 season was a mirage. He’s small, older than we’d like, and not particularly fast. On the other hand, he dominated 18 games in college. The top two picks in most rookie drafts are Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. I like both guys. Big picture, they were my two top-rated rookies. But Watkins and Evans dominated 16 games total, which means that Lee will enter the NFL having dominated more games than Watkins, Evans, and Benjamin combined.

Here’s a quick list of the BCS-level receivers who’ve dominated 18 or more college games since 2000.

JORDAN MATTHEWS Vanderbilt 2013 42 0.46 18.24 29 209 21.48 10.84
DEMARYIUS THOMAS Georgia Tech 2009 22 0.63 19.7 21 229 21.96 11.94
BRAYLON EDWARDS Michigan 2004 3 0.46 19.54 21 211 21.88 9.74
CALVIN JOHNSON Georgia Tech 2006 2 0.51 18.96 20 239 21.28 10.6
LARRY FITZGERALD Pittsburgh 2003 3 0.47 19.01 19 225 20.34 10.31
ERIC DECKER Minnesota 2009 87 0.41 20.48 19 206 22.63 8.64
KENDALL WRIGHT Baylor 2011 20 0.38 18.81 19 194 22.14 8.39
LEE EVANS Wisconsin 2003 13 0.41 19.49 18 202 22.82 8.44
MICHAEL FLOYD Notre Dame 2011 13 0.37 18.79 18 220 22.1 8.14
MARQISE LEE USC 2013 39 0.28 19.79 18 195 22.09 7.02

This is a Who’s Who of superstars, although it’s important to keep in mind that by using Lee’s numbers as the bottom threshold I’ve created a list where he’s necessarily the worst prospect.1 He also owns the worst future projection by a large margin because he has the worst final season DR.

On the other hand, Ryan Lessard recently took a look at Lee’s prospects had he been eligible to enter the draft after last season. While it wasn’t a slam dunk, he concluded it would have been reasonable for Lee to be a Top 10 pick. Lessard was one of two rankers who put Lee at No. 9 in his rookie rankings, and I think he’s going to be vindicated in this case.2

Could Lee’s final season DR be an indication that he’s the 2014 Keenan Allen?

A few weeks ago, I looked at five receivers who were going to be undervalued for the same reasons Allen was a forgotten man heading into 2013. Lee’s overall college career is being dramatically discounted due to the injuries he played through last season. Despite this, his DR was very similar to that of Watkins and Evans. It’s possible Lee would have been better served to sit out a few more contests instead of playing at less than 100%. But we could also spin this as a positive. Lee was willing to go out there and compete.

I’m fairly comfortable with Lee’s final season DR when you consider he dominated 50% of his college contests, a number that demonstrates consistency across multiple seasons and was easily the second best percentage among prospects in this draft class.

Lee is a better athlete than you think, perhaps equal to Sammy Watkins

Earlier in the offseason I took an exhaustive look at Watkins versus Lee on a wide variety of statistical measures. The two players battled to a draw, which probably gives Lee a solid advantage when you consider the relative costs to acquire. Watkins easily won the combined size/speed category, but Lee bested him just as easily on agility and explosion. A lot of folks are skeptical of these results, but, frankly, Lee’s 2012 season would be hard to explain if he didn’t possess these attributes.

The Fantasy Angle

It’s entirely possible Lee is no better than a WR6 as a rookie and then settles into a similar trajectory to Kendall Wright. While I believe there are justifiable reasons to focus on the positive aspect of Lee’s “games dominated” projection, his actual projection based on the other elements of the algorithm isn’t exciting. It’s worse than players like Robinson, Brandin Cooks, Paul Richardson, and others. It’s worse than that of the Next Antonio Brown, a player you can add for no cost at all.

But it’s also possible this is a rare opportunity to do what Jacksonville did – get a Top 10 prospect at a deep discount. While this could easily change by August, Lee would be my current choice as the top redraft rookie receiver for 2014.3

You’ve probably read through the information provided in this article, and thought, “Lee looks pretty good, but there’s a guy who still looks far better.” And you’re right. As Davis Mattek will tell you, Jordan Matthews could be a star. For a detailed explanation of why Matthews might be overvalued anyway, check out The Case Against Jordan Matthews.4 

One final note: I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m down on Sammy Watkins, but it’s worth repeating that much of his supposed value is related to spurious notions about his ability to run away from defenders. Please understand, I don’t believe there’s any actionable info in viewing highlights, but watching football is fun. And if you have any doubts about Marqise Lee’s ability to run away from people . . .

  1. We’ve previously examined his more reflective comps. The point here is that dominating games is very meaningful.  (back)
  2. Lessard also won the first year of the RDL.  (back)
  3. As I finished this piece, the RotoViz Composite Dynasty WR Rankings released, and I had Lee 27 spots higher than any other ranker. That would suggest my colleagues are refusing to break discipline in their viewpoint on a small/slow prospect. I can certainly see the argument for that as well.  (back)
  4. Also includes a look at my Top 10 Rookie Rankings.  (back)

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