A lot is being asked of Marquel Lee in Oakland Raiders training camp. Does he have what it takes to start right away at middle linebacker for the Silver and Black as a rookie?
Marquel Lee, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound middle linebacker (MLB) for the Oakland Raiders is currently the starter, according to the team’s official depth chart. Directly behind him is the largely unknown Tyrell Adams, while a well-known player among Raider fans is Ben Heeney currently sitting last on the list.
Lee is also a rookie, drafted in the fifth round, overall pick No. 168 out of Wake Forest. According to sports-reference.com/cfb, he owns career totals of 291 tackles (143 solo), 14.5 sacks, 2 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles. According to the site, 41 tackles were for a loss, and about half of those (20) came in his senior year.
So far in the NFL, Lee has played in one preseason game in which he amassed 6 tackles (5 solo), according to Raiders.com. He also had a fumble recovery, while his tackle total was good for second on the team, behind Cory James at seven.
So what do these numbers suggest? So far not a whole lot. His senior statistics are by far his best. Last season he had the most solo tackles, total tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles of his college career. This is encouraging. It means he improved in virtually every category statistically each season, and that he was a tackling machine, who had his nose around the football. That’s what you want in a prospective player and middle linebacker for your NFL team.
The next question is, is this enough? No, it is not. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and so far, Lee has one preseason game under his belt. His game numbers there show he can still tackle, and that he has a nose for the ball, but can he do it consistently against the top competition in NFL games that count?
That is yet to be seen. So stay tuned to the preseason to see if there’s any indications that Lee can answer that last question favorably. No doubt he’ll have his opportunity. However, he’s a rookie that needs to develop like all rookies, but especially as a fifth-round draft choice.
Lots of times the MLB is the quarterback of the defense, and that’s a lot to put on a rookie fifth-round draft choice. The last two players like that for the Raiders were Heeney, who’s last on the depth chart at the position, and James, who is listed as the starting weak side LB per the team’s website. The last player to play the position with adequate success, was last year’s veteran signing Perry Riley Jr., who remains a free agent.
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I expect Lee to continue to get his looks, so that the Raiders can find out what they have and maximize competition. They may even let this experiment ride until the early weeks of regular season, similar to last year, when they signed Riley after the preseason. However, this remains the weakest link on a team with a complete offensive juggernaut and a retooled defense looking to improve.
Look for the team to add a veteran presence, and perhaps bring back Riley after the preseason or start of the regular season. The fact that Riley hasn’t signed suggests they may want to upgrade even more, and maybe a player like Zach Orr comes in. Who knows at this point?
What we do know for sure is that history and recent Raiders’ late round linebacker draft picks have yet to work out to the fullest. We also know that general manager Reggie McKenzie values MLBs, along with RBs, least among skill positions in the draft. This explains why he’s never drafted at either position before the fifth round thus far. Also, we know the general manager, head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all know the position well, being former linebackers themselves.
In conclusion, be confident that the organization will figure this thing out eventually. In the meantime, have faith and enjoy the process, but don’t expect Lee to be the regular starting MLB just yet.