Despite a glaring need at linebacker, it wasn’t until the fifth round of the NFL Draft that the Raiders finally selected one in Wake Forest’s Marquel Lee.
In the first round of the draft Reggie McKenzie passed on star Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, instead choosing to address the secondary with CB Gareon Conley. In the second round McKenzie passed on Vanderbilt ‘backer Zach Cunningham to add yet another piece to the secondary in S Obi Melifonwu.
It’s clear from these moves that McKenzie and his staff viewed the secondary as a higher position of need than the linebacking corps. That being said, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were both fifth round picks, and the Raiders will hope they have unearthed a hidden gem with their own fifth round choice.
Lee had a highly productive four-year collegiate career in the ACC. He registered over 100 tackles in a season twice as Deacon and had 41 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles over his college career. His continued improvement was finally rewarded in his senior season when he was named to the All-ACC second team for defense.
Weight: 240 lbs
Arm Length: 32 1/2”
Hand Size: 9 1/2"
40-yard dash: 4.78
Bench: 25 Reps
2016: 105 TKL, 20 TFL, 7.5 SCK, 3 FF
2015: 71 TKL, 9 TFL, 3 SCK, 0 FF
2014: 101 TKL, 12 TFL, 4 SCK, 1 FF
2013: 14 TKL, 0 TFL, 0 SCK, 0 FF
2016: Second-Team All-ACC Defense
In the pros Lee projects to be a lot more effective as a run-stopper than in coverage. That’s not terrible news for a Raiders defense that allowed a paltry 117.6 rushing yards per game last season.
The Maryland native displayed a knack for getting behind the line of scrimmage and wreaking havoc in college, evidenced by his 20 tackles for loss in 2016 alone.
The Raiders will be hoping that Lee can eventually reach the immense potential he flashed against Syracuse last season. Against the Orangemen he amassed a ridiculous 15 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks.
Like all fifth round picks, Lee’s game is far from perfect. He isn’t particularly fast and will likely struggle in man coverage and in pursuit on stretch running plays against elusive backs. His game is relatively one-dimensional and linebackers that are only effective in one or two gap run protection don’t usually excel in the modern NFL.
Situationally, Lee could be a good player for the Raiders, but he needs to work on his speed and positioning to land a bigger role with the team. That means becoming more adept at shedding blockers, in pass coverage and improving his pursuit angles.
What he brings to the Raiders:
Lee brings both leadership and durability to a Raiders’ defense that gave up the seventh most yards per game in the league last year. He played 37 games over the last three seasons and was named a defensive captain of a 7-6 Wake Forest squad last season.
With Malcolm Smith heading to the 49ers and Perry Riley Jr. still unsigned, Lee may be asked to step into a big role right off the bat, as S&B’s Levi Damien has already alluded to. He could bring an immediate edge to the Raiders’ run defense, but the question will be whether or not his average speed will be a liability across the rest of the defense.
If Lee outperforms his fifth round draft spot it could help catapult the Silver and Black out of the NFL’s defensive basement. If he does turn out to be a liability however, Raiders’ fans may be waking up in cold sweats for the next several years wondering what could have been if the team had taken Reuben Foster in the first round.