Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee (11) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Eric Berry (29) during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Marqise Lee is quickly becoming Jacksonville's top playmaker, more explosive than Allen Robinson and more consistent than Allen Hurns.
A third-year receiver from USC, Lee has 34 catches for 442 yards this season. He's also been one of the NFL's top kickoff returners, ranking fifth in the league with a 25.1-yard average.
He leads the Jaguars (2-6) in yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards, making a strong case for being on the field more often during the second half of the season.
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''It feels good, honestly,'' Lee said Wednesday. ''It's been a while since I've been healthy. Just to be out there and producing a little bit and (helping) my team as much as I can is legit.''
His availability might finally have caught up with ability.
A guy once dubbed an “albino tiger” because he was so rarely seen on the practice field, Lee is enjoying the healthiest stretch of his career. Ankles, hamstrings, knees, they're all good.
''I've stopped worrying about it, honestly,'' he said. ''It's out of my control. It's out of all our control when we go out there and do something, but at the end of the day, I'm just going to work on the things I can work on to maintain. And right now it's working, so therefore I'm going to continue to do what I'm doing.''
The Jaguars have clearly noticed and have taken steps to get Lee more involved. He got his first carry of the season last week at Kansas City and took over the kickoff return job a few weeks earlier, replacing Denard Robinson and Corey Grant. He also subbed for injured punt returner Rashad Greene in one game.
Lee's role could be expanded Sunday against Houston (5-3), especially if Hurns is unable to play because of a concussion.
''He's been awesome,'' quarterback Blake Bortles said. ''He's been fun to watch. He's been fun to play with. You're able to see every time he touches the ball what he can do with it with how explosive he is. We know how fast he is and what he can do.
''He's a guy that I think has a rare ability to stay at one speed in and out of cuts. He doesn't slow down to change direction; he stays at full speed. I think that's rare and it's hard to do.''
Lee entered this season with 52 receptions for 613 yards and two touchdowns, hardly what the Jags expected when they selected him with the 39th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Fellow second-rounder Robinson (chosen 61st overall in 2014) and undrafted free agent Hurns were considerably more productive the last two years. No coincidence, they've also been healthier.
But Lee, a three-year starter in college, believes it's his time to shine. And staying healthy is the key.
''He was frustrated a year ago or two years ago with his injuries,'' coach Gus Bradley said. ''He could never just get healthy enough to where he could just stack up practices and games to where he felt like he was in a good rhythm. I think now, because of that, he's built great confidence and then he's had success. … He's just showing signs that he's really matured and that toughness, that mentality that he had at (USC), that we saw on tape, we're seeing that show up now.''
And he's building a solid relationship with Bortles, maybe even equal to the one the quarterback has with Robinson and Hurns.
''The last two years, it's hard to trust me as far as being in there when you have the chemistry and things like that,'' Lee said. ''For me being in the mix now and on a consistent basis is better for the both of us. Blake knowing where I'm at and me knowing where he's going to put it out, it's just on point.''
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