Marquel Lee is a pure middle linebacker. That’s where he’s been a full time starter at Wake Forest the past three seasons. That’s what the Raiders needed in this draft and that’s exactly why they selected him with their pick in the 5th round.
“I played MIKE my whole college career. Obviously I would be more comfortable there. The 4-2-5 is a little different than other defenses, but I feel like I can play at any spot.”
It is no secret the Raider had a gaping hole at middle linebacker. And waiting until two rounds into the third day of the draft led to banging that drum even louder as the team went in other directions with their first four selections.
Once their pick came up in the fifth round, Lee was there. He got the call from Reggie McKenzie who told him they had a major need at the middle linebacker spot and wanted him to come in and compete at that position right away.
Lee’s response was “That’s what I plan to do.”
Following the draft, McKenzie spoke of what he saw in Lee that made him the selection.
“Number one, he’s very instinctive,” said McKenzie. “He’s an inside linebacker primarily, he’s a middle linebacker. He plays with strength. He has a feel for the game. He’s a great size. He’s what we look for in a big, middle linebacker.”
Middle linebacker is a demanding job with this team. Or any team for that matter. He will need to fill running lanes as well as drop back into coverage. The former he has shown himself to be quite proficient, the latter he admits still needs some work.
“I’m a physical player at the line of scrimmage,” said the 6-3, 240-pound Lee. “I shed blocks really well, I feel like I can go sideline to sideline as well. Being a motor type guy, my motor I don’t see as ever stopping in games.”
“I feel like I was pretty good in my coverage over the years. Just polishing my attack on the ball and going after the ball, that’s where I need to better improve myself. But in zone dropping, I got good hips, I’ve shown that I can cover at the combine and I’d do any of the drills at the combine that translate to the field. I feel I can cover anybody.”
According to Pro Football Focus numbers, Lee was the 13th best run stopping linebacker in this draft with 46 run stops and 20.0 tackles for loss to 7 missed tackles. He also adds pass rush from the inside, putting up 7.5 sacks last season.
Last season the middle linebacker job belonged to Perry Riley Jr, who was signed off the street after week four and immediately inserted as the starter. He has yet to be re-signed by the team or any team and it remains to be seen if he will be back.
“We’ll see,” McKenzie said of the prospect of bringing Riley back. “That’s an ongoing evaluation. We’ll see what we got coming in. We’ll have the rookie mini-camp and then we’ll have everybody together. If we need to add someone else, we will. No, I never close the door until it’s time to get the roster together.”
McKenzie added that free agent addition Jelani Jenkins is expected to step in at inside linebacker on the weakside, likely alongside Lee at middle linebacker.