2014 NFL Draft: USC's Lee, Baylor's Norwood breakout on big stage
NFL scouts were treated Saturday night with a reminder of Lee's playmaking ability and were introduced to yet another phenomenal athlete for Art Briles' Bears.
On a day in which Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis made arguably the play of the year to preserve the Tigers' undefeated season, wideouts Marqise Lee and Levi Norwood made the night every bit as memorable.
Lee told the media that he expected the USC coaching staff to "let me loose a little bit" against Stanford and they certainly did, featuring the junior at wide receiver, punt returner and pairing him with fellow pass-catcher Nelson Agholor as a kick returner.
Lee's six catches for 83 yards certainly isn't as eye-popping as some of the performances he's enjoyed the past two seasons for the Trojans but the athleticism, toughness and timing he showed in USC's 20-17 upset over Stanford won't soon be forgotten by NFL scouts.
From the get-go, it was clear that the reigning Biletnkikof Award winner had regained his trademark explosiveness. While Stanford largely contained the Trojans' superstar, Lee showed his vision, agility and burst in returning a punt 20 yards against the Cardinal, as well as the body control and secure hands to haul in a two-point conversion in the first quarter to extend USC's surprising early lead to 14-7.
On their first play from scrimmage of the second half, Lee took a post 27-yards, sharply cutting to avoid one USC defender and dragging three others -- including 6-foot-6, 265-pounder Trent Murphy -- for the final few yards. After being declared down, the six-foot, 195-pound Lee emerged from the pile of humanity to emphatically pound the turf with the ball and signal "first down" to the delight of the home crowd.
When healthy, Lee is a dominant performer well worth first round consideration. Questions about his slim frame and durability will only increase, however, as Lee was again hobbled late in the game.
His toughness, however, won't be questioned as a limping Lee made arguably the play of the game by hauling in a quick slant on 4th and two to extend USC's game-winning drive.
Lee missed two games this season (Arizona, Utah) due to an injury to his left knee and has been limited in several others, leading to pedestrian numbers to this point. Lee entered the showdown with Stanford having caught just 38 passes for 521 yards and two scores. By comparison, Lee had caught 98 passes for 1484 and 13 touchdowns by this time a year ago.
To NFL scouts the only thing more enjoyable than watching an established star like Lee return to his playmaking ways is to see a previously unknown player emerge.
While possessing a lankier build than Lee, Baylor's Levi Norwood did a strong impression of the versatile USC star by returning a punt 58 yards for one touchdown and catching seven passes for 156 yards and two more scores in the Bears' impressive 63-34 win over Texas Tech.
Norwood, a junior who entered the game with 19 catches on the season, caught the ball cleanly and showed surprising balance, agility and acceleration. His most impressive play of the night was the weaving punt return which cut Texas Tech's surprising early two score lead to just 20-14.
Demonstrating great vision and patience to complement his impressive fluidity, Norwood made a handful of Tech would-be tacklers miss on his way to the end zone.
Norwood's emergence is just the latest example of the shocking depth Art Briles and Co. has been able to build in Waco.
Baylor entered Saturday night ranked first in Total Offense with an average of 61 points per game but without two of their top playmakers. Wideout Tevin Reese was lost for the season after dislocating his wrist against Oklahoma a week ago. Star running back Lache Seastrunk (groin) also was hurt against the Sooners and a no timetable has been provided for his return.
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