Jaguars “Wanted: Talent”: Marqise Lee and Telvin Smith

One of the league’s youngest franchises, the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t take long to make a mark in the NFL after their founding in 1995. They made the playoffs in four of their first five seasons and played in the conference championship twice. Ah, to be young again. Fast-forward fifteen years.: It’s been six years since the Jaguars were in  the playoffs, and about the same time since they drafted a player of note (i.e. the 2007-2012 classes) for the right reasons. Justin Blackmon certainly makes headlines, albeit for how long he will face league suspension – indefinitely! – more than his play on the field. Thanks for the memories, Blaine Gabbert, and fare thee well in San Francisco.

Head coach Gus Bradley is known for his defensive scheme, but instead of selecting linebacker Khalil Mack with the third overall pick, the Jaguars took University of Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. They then used their next three picks on the offensive side of the ball. Nevertheless, they managed to snag a very intriguing prospect in linebacker Telvin Smith. We’ll turn our attention to him a bit later. First up, let’s take a brief look at the multifaceted receiver from USC, and I don’t mean South Carolina, Marqise Lee.

 

ROUND 2, PICK 39

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

As a sophomore, Marqise Lee dazzled college football fans with his electric speed and chemistry with quarterback Matt Barkley, grabbing an astounding 118 receptions for 1,721 yards. He was awarded the Biletnikoff trophy as the nation’s top receiver and looked primed to be a top-10 pick if he could maintain anything close to this production. None of this came to fruition, as Lee spent most of his junior season hobbled by an ongoing knee injury. It didn’t cause him to miss many games, but if you watch any tape from 2013, you are likely to see him limping towards the sideline at some point. To his credit – and bravery, or foolishness – Lee continuously returned to the field of play. His production plunged to only 57 receptions and 791 yards. He dropped more balls than he had in the past, as well.

For this post I have watched all six 2013 game tapes available at Draft Breakdown, and four from Lee’s award-winning 2012 campaign. Lee has tremendous awareness on the field and makes a number of toe-tapping sideline grabs. In his best game of 2013 (against Stanford) he does it twice. On this play he’s initially well covered but works back to the quarterback to make a difficult catch. Later in the 1st quarter, he makes a similar catch, this time with his momentum going out of bounds, for a touchdown. It doesn’t look like a catch until the replay confirms it. And again, this time from 2012, his awareness of the sideline and concentration as the ball sails past a defender allows him to haul in a pretty reception.

Lee’s game needs work in a few area. When a cornerback is physical with him, results are mixed. Both here and here he is shoved out of bounds shortly into his route. He isn’t a player you will necessarily trust to win “50-50″ balls against tight coverage, but given that he’s not a big-body WR at only 6’0”, any ability to do so down the road will simply be a bonus. In 2012, the endzone fade makes a few appearances, but with his knee injury in 2013 we didn’t see this play so much. At full health, I believe he has the leaping ability to, at the very least, force opponents to consider the fade as a possible weapon. Additionally, Lee showed amazing chemistry with 2012 quarterback Matt Barkley, the kind he simply did not possess with Cody Kessler in 2013. His catch technique comes and goes as this video demonstrates – including some of those receptions in that video is picking nits, but overall, it does show where he needs some work.

Where Lee really shines is after the catch. Every slant route is in danger of becoming a touchdown. Against Arizona in 2012, Lee put up a game for the ages with a staggering 16 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. On the first of these touchdowns, he catches the ball and zooms 37 yards for a touchdown with near inhuman acceleration. The second touchdown is déjà vu all over again, as the great twentieth-century philosopher, Yogi Berra, was fond of saying. Lee didn’t lose this ability in 2013, as this play in the Las Vegas Bowl demonstrates.

Another exciting aspect of his game is the “quick-twitch” ability of his lower body. I labeled this play “joystick” as it looks more like a video game than real life. Lee is extraordinarily nimble and can pull the chair out from under a defensive back with ease. He can change direction with fluidity and without loss of speed. Of course, this speed also stretches the field vertically. Lee would be the perfect compliment to Justin Blackmon, but alas…

 

ROUND 5, PICK 144

Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State

One of my favorite players to watch on tape, Telvin Smith will need to bulk up from his svelte 218-lb. frame in order to be an every-down player. He was already turning heads at Jaguars rookie minicamp in May among coaches and teammates alike. “If he gets to 230, watch out,” said fellow rookie [running back] Storm Johnson. Watch out, indeed. Smith flies around the field from sideline to sideline and to my eye was the most exciting player to watch amidst a champion Florida State defense not lacking for talent (or excitement).

The first play I want to show you against Miami is perfect. Smith diagnoses the run immediately, then lowers his pad level and attacks the outside shoulder of the fullback, which allows him to meet the running back several yards behind the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t make the tackle, but the referee rules that forward progress has been stopped and whistles the play dead. On this play, his aggressiveness catches him running directly into a pulling guard, which opens up a very nice cutback lane. On the very next snap of the game, Smith takes himself out of the play by mirroring the runner with a step to the right. This allows the same guard to “shield” the path to create another lane for the runner. Here Smith takes a more patient approach with an excellent result.

Missing tackles is a problem Telvin Smith has from time to time. Sticking with the Miami game for one last play, he is responsible for covering the flat to the left side (of the defense). A hop and a stutter-step to the right by the runner leaves Smith tackling air. This time against Boston College, overpursuit in the flat here allows the fullback to take a swing pass in for a touchdown. An end-around in the Pittsburgh game similarly leaves Smith grasping air as he overpursues freshman sensation Tyler Boyd (look for him in, er, 2016).

One play in particular against Clemson is interesting. Just a split second after this reception in the flat, Smith meets the runner for what should be a nice tackle for loss. He fails to make the initial tackle as the runner shakes him loose. Keep watching. Rather than remain on the ground sulking in defeat, Smith hops right back onto his feet and manages to make the tackle which eluded him earlier. It’s a wonderful hustle play. It also shows why he needs to add about fifteen pounds.

While it remains to be seen if he can put on this much weight without losing speed, I will now turn to plays which showcase Smith’s dynamism. His ability to read and react is top notch. While Boston College racked up yards in the running game against Florida State, Smith filled his gap and made plays the entire game. Here he wades through traffic using his teammates as protection to bring down running back Andre Williams (now a New York Giant) for no gain. Note the patience displayed on this play in order to slip through a hole for a similar result. If he doesn’t make the play there then Williams is likely facing a one-on-one with the safety on the outside.

Proper run defense calls for both relentless aggression and patience. The great linebackers in the league know when the situation calls for one versus the other. There is no guideline for when to be aggressive and when to be patient before the snap. A linebacker must intuitively understand when to employ these completely different tasks. Telvin Smith gets it. In the first play of the game against Pittsburgh, he explodes right at the snap through the ‘A-gap’ to bring the runner down for a loss. In the Duke game, he violently attacks the H-back’s chest on this play and the aggression allows him to defeat the attempted block.

As for pass defense, the Jags will almost certainly use Smith in coverage packages. He wasn’t tasked to run with tight ends or receivers downfield very often in college. In the short to intermediate area, he must be accounted for. Here is a good example of him matched up on a running back and defensing a pass. His speed underneath makes him a threat on plays like this (or this) to intercept passes for a touchdown. Smith’s jam on the slot receiver in this play renders the pass ineffective. And, last, he finds a way to the receiver on this screen pass, shedding a block in the process.

 

THE WRAP UP

Jacksonville signed a few defensive linemen in Red Bryant and Ziggy Hood to help bolster their run defense. Bryant is nominally a defensive end, but at 332 lbs. (or bigger) he cannot be mistaken for a pass rusher, and is typically shaded just inside the tackle to eat up blocks. Another former Seahawk, Chris Clemons, was brought in to man the LEO position on the opposite side. Toby Gerhart was acquired to add some punch to the running game. It helps that he’s also a plus catching the ball out of the backfield. None of the free agent signings made a big splash; Jacksonville will rely heavily on rookies and second-year players to play a lot of snaps.

The organization wants Chad Henne to start at quarterback as #3 overall pick Blake Bortles learns from the sideline. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if Bortles is the starter from week 1. Initially, I intended to write this piece about the team’s pair of second-round receivers, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Upon deeper examination I am bearish on Robinson. He’s a bit stiff in the hips, and that effect is only exaggerated when watching him immediately after Lee.

Third-round guard Brandon Linder will bring size and athleticism to the trenches, but he needs a good deal of work technically. Aaron Colvin (cornerback) was injured during the Senior Bowl practices and is a better player than his draft position indicates. He’ll start the season on the PUP list. Defensive end Chris Smith was another Senior Bowl standout. His tape is underwhelming, but if anyone can make him into a player. Gus Bradley can. Storm Johnson was an essential cog in UCF’s BCS run. He joins teammate Blake Bortles and has a shot at winning the backup running back role in spite of his seventh-round status.

Gil Brandt thinks the Jaguars are a potential playoff team. I don’t. Well, unless Bortles is the next Brunell, Lee and Robinson pair up to match Smith and McCardell, and Joeckel is the next Boselli, and all of that right away. More likely is yet another year as a bottom-feeder. As for 2015, that’s a different story, and as with many things in life, “It depends.” The Jaguars’ only rival in the contest for least talent in the NFL last season was the Oakland Raiders. Time will tell if this recent draft class, along with the class of 2013, is enough to turn this franchise around. In the meantime, at least they will be one of the more intriguing teams to keep an eye on during the preseason.

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