There likely will be more, but at the very minimum, the Saints are hosting one wide receiver who many think could be selected late in the first round of the 2014 draft in May.
USC’s Marqise Lee told the program Pro Football Talk Live he has visits set up with New Orleans and its NFC South rival, the Carolina Panthers. The Saints have the 27th overall pick of the upcoming draft, and the Panthers have the 28th.
Lee also said he’s worked out privately for “a couple of teams” but didn’t disclose who they were.
The 6-foot, 192-pound Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in the nation. His quarterback was Matt Barkley.
But his numbers were significantly less impressive his junior year with the Trojans: 57 grabs, 791 yards and four scores during a campaign in which coach Lane Kiffin was fired after five games.
Lee blamed his drop in production on leg injuries that kept him out of three games. “I didn’t have my full on season from that end,” he said to PFT Live.
He also mentioned the battle for starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2013 campaign between Cody Kessler (who won) and Max Wittek (the backup) as a negative factor. “Even that was kind of a struggle as far as getting that repetition and getting that flow with the quarterback,” Lee remarked. “I didn’t get the chance to really get that going.”
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Lee clocked a 40-yard dash of 4.52 seconds — the fastest time in the event among wideouts was 4.33, and the slowest was 4.75. His broad jump of 10 feet, 7 inches was the best at his position.
According to CBSSports.com draft pundit Rob Rang, one of Lee’s top strengths is explosive straight-line speed that makes it difficult for cornerbacks to press him. Weaknesses are his slight frame and the fact that he struggled with injuries in 2013, “raising legitimate questions about his ability to remain healthy against NFL competition,” Rang wrote.
The Saints for now only have three receivers with meaningful NFL experience: veteran Marques Colston, second-year player Kenny Stills and third-year player Joe Morgan.
Colston caught 75 passes for 943 yards and five touchdowns in 15 regular-season games in 2013. He is the franchise leader in receptions (607), receiving yards (8,337) and receiving touchdowns (63), but coach Sean Payton recently said Colston battled through foot soreness for much of last season.
Stills — with 32 catches for 641 yards and five touchdowns — led the NFL in yards per reception (20).
Morgan sat out the 2011 and 2013 seasons with knee injuries; but, in 2012, he had three touchdowns and 379 yards on 10 grabs. His jaw-dropping 37.9 yards per catch would’ve easily been the best in the NFL if he had enough grabs to qualify for the league’s leader boards.
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ top two receivers at the moment — Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood — are far from the NFL’s most decorated.