Perhaps the two most athletically interesting running backs in this draft are Keith Marshall and Derrick Henry. Henry rushed for 2219 yards in his final season at Alabama. Marshall rushed for 1379 yards in his four-year career. Injuries foreclosed a brilliant college career for Marshall, but if the NFL combine is any indication, he’s ready for a fresh start.
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Marshall battled fellow freshman Todd Gurley for snaps in 2012. And while Gurley got the lion’s share, Marshall posted a more-than-respectable 759 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries (compared to Gurley’s 222/1385/17).
Marshall actually out-touched Gurley in two of Georgia’s first four 2013 contests. But in the fifth, Marshall tore his ACL, ending his 2013 campaign. That injury and its aftereffects limited Marshall to just three games and no significant touches in 2014.
Finally healthy in 2015, Marshall nevertheless played third fiddle to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Marshall didn’t see significant touches until Chubb’s season-ending knee injury created room on the depth chart. He finished with 350 yards and three touchdowns on 68 carries, with more than half of that production coming in his final four games.
Combine Performance and Building Hype Train
After a lackluster and injury-plagued college career, Marshall was an afterthought for dynasty drafters, registering a fourth-round January ADP in rookie mocks. Then the combine happened, and we saw this:
Marshall caught everyone’s attention by weighing in at 219 pounds and running a 4.31 40-yard dash. Those numbers gave him the best speed score since 1999 (which is as far back as Football Outsiders’ data reaches). By April, Marshall’s rookie ADP had jumped into the mid-third round. And folks like Ryan McDowell and Matt Waldman are promoting him as a guy who’s likely to gain even more value.
But not everything points up for Marshall. As PlayerProfiler.com reminds us with his player comparison, speed score isn’t everything:
We shouldn’t overlook Marshall’s lack of college production, especially in his final season. But there’s reason for optimism even there. Marshall didn’t have any massive games buoyed by one or two long runs. Instead, he grinded out a 5.1 YPC average and posted only one game with less than 4.4 YPC. In other words, he was the anti-Tevin Coleman. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but we know Marshall has the speed to break long runs, so his lack of production is at least partially just bad luck.
One of Marshall’s best games as a senior came against Kentucky. Marshall shows strong vision and, of course, his trademark speed. He also makes a nifty catch-and-run that suggests he could be a threat in the passing game at the NFL level.
If Marshall lands in a prime spot and his price reaches the mid-second round of rookie drafts, it’ll be time to jump ship. To be sure, he’s shown flashes enough to justify that pick, but they’re only flashes. You can probably find someone comparable with a more complete body of work at that price. But if he falls to the third round of rookie drafts, you can do worse than betting on a player with Marshall’s physical profile. Even if he’s “just” Knile Davis, Marshall will likely flash early in his career, giving you an opportunity to cash out with a profit.
Would love to see y’all write up Jordan Payton.