Welcome to part one of our look at Ohio State's 2016 NFL Draft prospects. Over the course of the weeks ahead we will take a look at each of Ohio State's potential draft selections, and find out not only what they achieved at Ohio State (spoiler: a lot ), but also what we can expect them to achieve at the next level (spoiler: a lot more). Without further ado, Ohio State receiver/all around stud: Jalin Marshall.
To describe Jalin Marshall in one word is actually pretty easy: Marshall is a freak. Standing at 5'11, 205 pounds, Marshall's stature may be closer to that of a running back, but in reality Marshall is part running back, part wide receiver, part H-back. It might just be easier to call Marshall what he truly is: an all-purpose playmaker.
An electric option quarterback out of Middletown, OH, Marshall came to Ohio State as a very highly touted recruit. Marshall was Ohio's top ranked prospect in the class of 2013, and came to Ohio State as an athlete ready to be molded into whatever position Urban Meyer deemed fit.
After redshirting his freshman season to learn the ins and outs of the receiver position, Marshall became a regular playmaker for the 2014 Ohio State offense. Marshall's role really began to increase upon Dontre Wilson breaking his foot in the Michigan State game, as Marshall notched four touchdowns (all in the second half) two weeks later in the Buckeyes' comeback win over Indiana. While Devin Smith may be the receiver we remember best from Ohio State's magical playoff run, it was Marshall who provided the sure-handed target for Cardale Jones all across the field, reeling in five catches in both the Sugar Bowl and the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
With only one ball, and guys like Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller, and Ezekiel Elliott capable of making their own game breaking plays, it would have been easy for Marshall to become overshadowed in 2015. But, despite seeing his wildcat snaps and H-back duties reduced to essentially nothing, Marshall became a viable outside deep threat for whoever happened to be under center for the Buckeyes during the 2015 season. One thing that did not change for Marshall in 2015 was his punt returning, which continued to be an emotional rollercoaster for Buckeyes fans, as Marshall's insistence on fielding nearly every punt typically collides with the reality that tackling Marshall in space is next to impossible.
In addition to his national championship ring, Marshall was named a Freshman All-American following his 2014 campaign, and was a preseason All-American punt returner going into 2015. His complete stat lines are below:
Marshall had two very solid years with the Buckeyes, but were they solid enough to warrant a high draft pick? As electric as Marshall was, other receivers including Smith, Miller and Thomas each took their share of opportunities away from Marshall. Plus, Ohio State's quarterback situation in 2015 did Marshall no favors in the stats department. Had Marshall returned to Columbus for the 2016 season, he would have likely been Ohio State's number one receiving threat, which would have been trouble for anyone facing off against the Buckeyes. But Marshall chose to go pro, and once you consider his overall skill set, it's not too hard to see why.
Strengths: Punt returning, versatility, playmaking
The one key skill that will really save Marshall from falling too far in this draft is punt returning. Not since Teddy Ginn (sorry Philly Brown, should've caught that punt against Clemson) have Buckeyes fans seen a returner as fearless and explosive as Marshall. Let's take a first-hand look at what Marshall can bring to the table on a regular punt return.
This punt return is from the Buckeye-friendly version of the Ohio State-Michigan State rivalry, and Marshall fields this punt while running back to his own 10 yard line. Marshall continues his course upon catching the punt, and outruns his first would-be tackler.
Marshall quickly realizes he doesn't have much room to run up the Spartans sideline, but Marshall always seems to have a solution, and this time ,the solution was simply reversing field. Two more Spartans cannot quite bring Marshall to the ground, bringing our total up to three.
Marshall proceeds to then bend his course inside, before returning outside (similar to what he is capable of doing on his horizontal runs which I explain here) in order to avoid two more Spartans. At this point, Marshall has avoided five Spartans to gain a total of seven yards, and some of his teammates (most notably number 14 Curtis Grant) have turned around to check out the show for themselves.
Tackle attempts number six and seven from the Spartans punt team end up being just as effective as the previous five, as Marshall runs through two arm tackles this time around. This tackle breaking ability is what always separated Marshall from fellow Buckeyes' H-back Dontre Wilson: Marshall has the power to break weak tackle attempts. Receivers that can outrun a whole defense are rare, and receivers that can outrun a whole defense while also running through tackle attempts are even rarer. Consider Marshall's 25-yard return against the Spartans that saw him break seven different tackles proof that Marshall falls in the latter group.
Weaknesses: Route running, was never "the" guy in his offense
Marshall is still a raw receiver. While his emergence into a downfield threat in 2015 will certainly help his draft stock, Marshall may still be seen as an athlete without a true position in the NFL. In college, Marshall's ability to seamlessly transition from slot to outside wide receiver was great, but if Marshall's transition came at the expense of him never truly becoming great at either spot, this may hurt his stock.
As you know ,Ohio State has had their fair share of playmakers on offense. While Marshall earned his spot in #Zone6, at the end of the day, Marshall finished the season tied for 259th in the country in receiving yards. No one is doubting Marshall's ability to make the big play, but in an offense where he is only asked to make the big play half as often as a normal player of his caliber, it is up to the NFL scouts to decide if Marshall can translate his success into a larger role.
Best Case NFL Comparison: Julian Edelman
Edelman's 5'10" 200 lb frame is very similar to Marshall, as is Edelman's past experience converting to wide receiver from quarterback. While it took Edelman four years to carve out his role as a starting receiver in the Patriots offense, Edelman still made his money as an explosive punt and kick returner during the early part of his career.
This is the best case NFL course of action for Marshall: a situation where he can showcase his play-making ability returning punts while he continues to learn the nuances of the receiver position. Ideally with a player of Marshall's athletic ability he will be able to become a starting NFL receiver down the line, and with his small frame Marshall would likely be best served running his routes from the slot.
Worse Case NFL Comparison: Danny Amendola
While it's ironic teammates Danny Amendola and Edelman are both comparisons and
white on the same team, they really both work perfectly for Marshall's projected NFL path. The difference between Amendola and Edelman, put simply, is that Edelman is just a lot better. Like Edelman, Amendola started his career as more of a situational receiver while handling full time punt and kick return duties. Unlike Edelman, Amendola never showed the same caliber of explosiveness on his returns and struggled staying healthy.
Barring any drastic changes from the seven year NFL vet, Amendola is a good punt returner who cannot be trusted to be a major part of a team's passing attack. If Marshall fails to further develop his ability as a receiver, this could be the same way we see him in six years.
NFL Projection: 4-5 Round
Marshall can really help his NFL stock with a fast 40 time at the combine as well as a good showing while working with the quarterbacks. Even if Marshall struggles in silencing his critics regarding his NFL receiving readiness, Marshall gives any NFL team a ready-to-go returner which gives his draft stock a healthy mid-round floor.
Most "Jalin" Play
I don't want to get into the "best" or "most important" play that Marshall made during his time at Ohio State. Instead, let's put aside the team success or importance of the play itself for a second and think about what Marshall's most "Jalin" play was from the past two years.
When I think of Jalin Marshall, I think of a fearless athlete who has no issues reversing field or making his own play. What could thus define Marshall better than a pop passed, turned into a potential illegal pass, turned into a reverse run, turned into a touchdown with a funky hop at the end?
The funniest part about this play is Marshall's insistence that he knew what he was doing the whole time. I question whether or not Marshall really went through such a sound decision making process during the course of this play, but I will never question Marshall on one thing: Jalin Marshall knows how to make plays.