Marquel Lee: Too early to anoint, dismiss the young linebacker

The jury is still out on Marquel Lee, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

While it’s still too early to emphatically say that the 6-foot-3, 235-pound 2017 fifth-round pick is a long term answer at the linebacker position, it’s equally premature to write him off as well. After all, Lee is only 23 (24 in October) and learning both the nuances of the NFL game and Paul Guenther’s intricate defensive schemes.

Lee is the epitome of former Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie’s and Guenther’s philosophy starting linebackers can be cultivated and developed in the latter stages of the NFL draft.

In his second year as a Raider, Lee racked up 63 tackles and a trio of pass deflections. It was a year where he started at middle linebacker and moved to the outside manning the Sam spot in Paulie G’s defense.

“I’m just doing what I’m asked. I’m taking it in stride to help the team out,” Lee said when speaking of the position switch in November this past season. “And going through the transition hasn’t been that bad, because in this defense, the coaches have been stressing that all linebackers should know every position.”

It was a position swap born out of releasing veteran Derrick Johnson and then-practice squader Jason Cabinda getting looks by other NFL teams. Cabinda got called up and Lee shuttled over to Sam. Head coach Jon Gruden liked what he saw.
“He’s physical and he can play on the tight end, and he’s showed that he can recognize passing concepts,” Gruden said of Lee. “He’s good at zone coverage, is improving in man coverage, think he’s going to be a load as a blitzer.

“We appreciate him doing that to open the door for Cabinda, to get him on the field. So he’s been unselfish too.”

That selflessness is something coaches love about players. Couple that with Lee’s size and adequate speed (he’s never going to be confused for an afterburner linebacker) and it’s intriguing to see how he develops as a blitzer.

“Sometimes at the Sam, you’re on the backside of plays, so it’s easy to run down backside plays, and just being able to flow is fun,” Lee said. “And, you’re not really confined in the box like you are at middle linebacker. You have a little a more wiggle than you do in the center.”

Operating out of the confines of the Mike, Lee’s read and react skills were on full display as he disrupted passing lanes and got after the ball carrier. It’s those flashes that make it difficult to simply close the book on Lee. What Lee needs to capture is the ever-elusive consistency. That’s what separates the could-haves from the will-dos.

Which way Lee goes is all up to him. But he’s got the requisite tools, physical and athletic ability to become a long term answer at a position for the Raiders which has been bereft of talent since Gruden’s first go-around with the team.

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