Experienced and successful against elite college programs
Experience in a West Coast offense
Kick- and punt-return ability
Safe pick to turn into a quality contributor
Injured throughout 2013
Could have issues of being nicked up a lot
Not a big receiver
Had some drops last season
Summary: USC wide receivers must wish they could come out after their sophomore seasons. If that was the case, Lee and Robert Woods both would probably have been picks in the top half of the first round of their draft class and potentially top-10 picks. But, rough junior seasons seem to be a curse for Trojan wide outs. That issue sent Woods to the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, while Lee looks likely to be a late first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
As a freshman in 2011, Lee was very impressive for USC. He broke into the starting lineup for the Trojans and was a superb weapon for quarterback Matt Barkley. Playing opposite Woods, Lee had a massive debut hauling in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In 2012, Lee was one of the best players in college football. He was a Heisman finalist who carried USC's offense while other players had a down season. Lee was a consistent source of big plays with the speed to score on any reception. He put up astounding totals with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lee also returned kicks and averaged 28.5 yards per return, plus took one for a 100-yard touchdown in the season opener.
Lee had a disappointing junior season. He was banged up throughout the previous offseason and that carried over into September. Prior to a knee injury, the Trojans' quarterback play was holding him back in 2013. He also had a mildly disappointing outing in the season opener with a few drops and a muffed punt.
Lee had a really rough night against Arizona State. He caught seven passes for 92 yards, but also allowed a terrible dropped pass to be intercepted by the Sun Devils. Then in the fourth quarter, Lee injured his knee on a punt return. Lee missed a couple of games with his knee injury and the second half of the contest with Notre Dame. He flashed his 2012 form against Oregon State (5-105-1) and looked like his old self when he dominated Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl (7-118-2).
For the NFL, Lee is a well-rounded wide receiver. He is an excellent fit in a West Coast offense as he uses his speed to get separation on slants, crosses and digs. Lee is dangerous with the ball in his hands, so when he gets hit in stride he rips off yards in chunks. Lee also has the ability to take a short catch the distance for points. He isn't a big receiver, but he plays bigger than his listed measurements and can make contested catches.
The big question for Lee will be staying healthy in the NFL. Some are critical of his hands, too. In this writer's opinion, the criticism of Lee's hands is overstated. He did have some drops in 2013 while he was playing through injuries and never got in a rhythm. Lee's hands weren't criticized when he caught 118 passes the previous season when he was healthy and had a quality quarterback.
At the next level, Lee looks like a safe pick to be a quality receiver who should at least be a good No. 2 receiver and could be a No. 1. He looks likely to go in the back half of the first round.
Player Comparison: Greg Jennings. Lee's game reminds me of Jennings when he was in his prime with Green Bay. Both are excellent route-runners with the speed to produce some big plays. They operate well in all levels of the field. Jennings (5-11, 198) and Lee are basically the same measurements, but both play bigger than their listed size. The Packers took Jennings in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, while Lee looks more likely to be a first-rounder. Jennings has had a good pro career, and it wouldn't be surprising if Lee turns into a receiver of Jennings' caliber.
NFL Matches: Baltimore, New York Jets, Kansas City, Cleveland, New Orleans, Carolina, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle
Lee has a lot of landing spots late in the first round or early in the second round. There are a number of teams picking in the late teens and 20s that could select him. Perhaps the highest that Lee could hope to go would be to the Ravens or Jets in the late teens. Both teams signed free agent wide receivers, but each one could use more help in its receiving corps. Lee could fit the 'solid double' that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome likes to target in the first round.
The Chiefs could target a receiver at No. 23, plus Lee would fit well in Andy Reid's offense.
A few picks later, Lee could get consideration by the Browns as they seek to improve their offense. If Cleveland takes a quarterback with its first pick, Lee could be an option with pick No. 26.
In the NFC South, Carolina has a massive need at wide receiver, and Lee could be a good replacement for Steve Smith. The Panthers are locked into drafting a wide receiver early, although some think they will avoid Lee because they've been burned by USC receivers in the past. New Orleans also could consider a wide out. The Saints lost some weapons this offseason in Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. The team has some older veterans at receiver, and Lee would give New Orleans some play-making youth.
The 49ers could use more young talent at wide receiver, plus Lee would make a lot of sense for San Francisco. He would fit well in the 49ers' offense and give them a downfield play-maker.
Denver doesn't have a real need at receiver, but Lee could be the best player available. Wes Welker is only a short-term player, so Lee could be drafted to be his replacement in a year.
Seattle lost Golden Tate in free agency, but the Seahawks would probably prefer drafting a receiver with more size.