INDIANAPOLIS -- Marqise Lee’s first three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars are lessons in overcoming adversity, staying focused and persevering. After two injury-filled years in which he was a non-factor, Lee finally had a breakout season in 2016 and has become arguably the Jaguars’ best playmaker.
He’s using what he went through to help another former USC receiver as he begins his NFL journey.
While returning to USC to take classes and finish his degree, Lee has worked out in Los Angeles with several former USC receivers. One of them is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is projected to be drafted within the first three rounds next month.
"He had a great year this past year, and that’s pretty much what he’s saying: Don’t let anything discourage you from doing what you want to do," Smith-Schuster said of Lee, who set career highs in catches (63), receiving yards (851) and touchdown catches (three). "Marqise Lee told me that you’re going to go through some injuries, that you’re going to have to face and overcome that."
After a rough start, Lee eventually did. If he continues to stay healthy and play well, he’ll likely get rewarded with a contract extension.
Lee fought a hamstring injury during the first half of his rookie season in 2014 and missed three games before finishing with 37 catches for 422 yards and one touchdown. After missing most of training camp, all of the preseason and six of the first eight games because of a hamstring injury, Lee finally got healthy and stayed on the field for the Jaguars’ final eight games in 2015 -- but he caught just 15 passes.
However, Lee was healthy last spring and participated in every organized team activity and the three-day minicamp. He entered camp competing with Rashad Greene to be Jacksonville's No. 3 receiver. By the time he season ended, he had moved past Allen Hurns as the No. 2 -- and arguably past Allen Robinson as the Jaguars’ top target.
Smith-Schuster already has dealt with his share of injuries. Despite breaking his right hand midway through his sophomore season in 2015, he didn’t miss a game and finished with 89 catches for 1,454 (fourth in FBS) and 10 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster didn’t miss a game with a thumb injury as a freshman, either.
It’s different at the NFL level, though, especially when it comes to soft-tissue injuries. Lee was banged up with various injuries during his three seasons at USC -- including knee and shoulder issues -- but missed only three games. He missed nine in his first two seasons with the Jaguars but played in all 16 in 2016.
Smith-Schuster said he appreciates the advice he’s gotten from Lee as well as former USC receivers Nelson Agholor and Robert Woods, who also have returned to L.A. and have worked out with Smith-Schuster this offseason.
"There are some guys who weren’t doing well [on the field] at first that are doing well now," Smith-Schuster said. "You learned a lot of how they started off and how they got back to where they’re at, and then off the field stuff: How to manage your money, how to manage your time, basically just staying out of trouble."