This year, I've again been breaking down each of the Jets' rookies in detail and we're now looking at the undrafted free agents. On Tuesday, I looked at defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas from Michigan State ] but now I move on to look at Ohio State wide receiver and punt returner Jalin Marshall. I've been conducting research and watching game footage to try and assess what he brings to the table.
The 20-year-old Marshall is listed as 5'10" and 200 pounds and entered the draft early after his redshirt sophomore year at Ohio State. He caught 76 passes for 976 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Buckeyes and was also in the top-five for punt return average both years. Marshall was considered to be a projected mid-rounder in the draft, with some experts suggesting he could be a day-two pick. However, he ran a slower than expected 40-yard dash at the combine and ended up going undrafted.
Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.
Who is Jalin Marshall?
As was the case with Christian Hackenberg and Lawrence Thomas before him, Marshall is another rookie pickup who was a highly sought-after high school recruit, having impressed as an option quarterback at Middletown, Ohio. However, after red-shirting his freshman year, Marshall played just two years and then opted to enter the draft -- arguably before he realized his full potential. If the Jets coaches have the patience to allow him to continue to develop now that he's a professional, this could be another good find in terms of value.
With several minor injuries and a deep group of skill position players ahead of him, Marshall redshirted his freshman year in 2013, but moved into a significant role as a red-shirt freshman in 2014.
Over the next two years, Marshall's production as a receiver was consistent but unspectacular, with 38 catches for 499 yards and six scores in 2014 and 36 catches for 477 yards and five scores in 2015. However, in 2014 he also carried the ball 25 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. He had just two carries in 2015 but did have his first 100-yard receiving game.
Marshall also made a name for himself as a punt returner, as he finished in the top five for average yards per return in each season. However, he had a costly muff in an upset loss to Minnesota in 2014 and although he bounced back to score four touchdowns in the biggest game of his career the following week, he never completely earned back the trust of the fanbase.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Marshall brings to the table, based on my research and film study.
Marshall's slide in the draft has mostly been attributed to the fact that he ran a disappointing 40-yard dash during the offseason. We'll focus on why that might be an over-simplification later on, but for someone who looks so fast on film, 4.60 at the combine was disappointing. And when he tried to improve on that number at his pro day, he only ran a 4.69. However, he got off to a much worse start in his pro day run (0.09 slower over the first 10 yards but 0.04 faster over the last 20). That suggests he should be capable of improving his overall time by at least 0.04, which would give him a 4.56 time. Keep that number in mind.
Looking at the rest of his numbers, the suggestion that Marshall displayed disappointing athleticism at the combine is inaccurate since other than that 40-yard dash, his numbers were good across the board. Does a lack of long distance breakaway speed preclude a small, shifty receiver and kick returner from being a productive player at the NFL level? It would seem not -- especially if they show good agility and explosiveness.
The prototypical player to compare Marshall with here is the very guy he'll be trying to replace with the Jets. Jeremy Kerley was a fifth round pick in 2011, but he too posted a slower than anticipated 40-yard dash at the combine (4.67). Kerley was able to improve upon this at his pro day, but only to 4.56, which you'll recall is the exact number I identified as what Marshall should have been able to achieve above.
As for the rest of Kerley's numbers -- with again some of these being improved upon at his pro day -- they ended up very similar (including an identical bench press and vertical jump). Marshall's agility numbers fell short of Kerley's excellent numbers, but were still very good. And he had a better broad jump by three inches. Marshall is also slightly bigger (by one inch and 11 pounds).
Marshall clearly has an extremely similar athletic profile to a player who saw success in a similar role, suggesting his measurables can't be the only reason he slipped in the draft. We'll therefore look into everything else, but we can use the Kerley projection to set our expectations for how Marshall will thrive as a deep threat, a short option or in terms of breakaway speed.
In his redshirt freshman year, Marshall primarily played the H-back position, which confusingly is nothing like the role denoted by the position of the same name with the Jets. Instead, he would line up in the slot but often motion across the formation for jet sweeps or into the flat. He moved outside for 2015.
As a former high school quarterback, Marshall was sometimes given snaps out of the wildcat in 2014, but the need for him to do that vanished in 2015 with Braxton Miller moving to receiver. He did have a game or two where he was the number two quarterback due to injuries, though, so he was almost called upon for emergency duties.
In three games charted from 2015, Marshall played on the outside most of the time but still had 40 of 163 snaps in the slot. He did not line up in the backfield. When lined up in the slot, Marshall had a lower yards per catch average and was less productive in terms of pass catching in 2015.
Marshall did make some plays downfield, but I didn't see many examples of him blowing by a defender to catch a long pass. Instead, many of the deep balls he caught saw him run downfield but then go up to get it in over a defender. In fact, he went up over two defenders for a touchdown in the end zone against Michigan.
Marshall scored a 48-yard touchdown on a long ball against Maryland in 2015 and it was a big one, breaking a 21-21 tie with seven minutes left in the third quarter. The defense was in zone coverage on that play, though, and he was wide open on a deep post route down the middle.
Marshall is somewhat raw as a route-runner, tending to get sloppy at the end of a route by rounding it off or drifting. However, he does show some promise. He can make crisp cuts and shows good technique when he breaks down for a hitch route.
It seemed like there was a lot of late or inaccurate throws to Marshall, which might suggest he was getting separation but the quarterback was letting him down. That was particularly apparent on the quick hitch routes. However, it can also mean that the receiver's route is imprecise and that the timing of the throw was fine but the receiver broke too early or at the wrong depth or angle.
While some of it happens off-screen, you can see that he does a good job of getting open on the outside here, presumably with either a sharp break to the outside or by deceiving the defensive backs by leaning inside first.
Marshall didn't have major issues with drops in college, as he totalled just four in each of his two seasons. However, he did also have some issues catching punts and there were times where he juggled catches or made a catch with his body rather than his hands.
He does display some good pass catching ability, though. He can go up to get it in a crowd and is capable of hanging on in traffic or when absorbing a hit, as he does here:
Marshall has a flair for the spectacular sometimes and one of his four touchdowns against Indiana in 2014 was a one-handed catch. However, I wonder if he tries to go for the spectacular too often, as there were at least two plays where he failed to make a one-handed catch on a play where it looked like he could get two hands to the ball. Here was one:
Yards after the catch
Marshall's open field running is obviously an asset after the catch, as it is when he was used as a runner or in the return game. He's an exciting player to watch with good elusiveness and acceleration. He makes good use of the spin move in the flat, stops on a dime and fights for yardage.
In 2014, Marshall yards after the catch per reception average was higher than most of the top receivers in this year's class, but it dropped off in 2015. In any case, those numbers can be misleading because quite a lot of his catches saw him come in motion and run underneath the formation to catch a short toss, which is really more akin to a running play.
Where Marshall was carrying the ball regularly in 2014, that was mostly on wildcat snaps and end-arounds. His two carries in 2015 both went for 15 yards and one of those was an end-around in their bowl game.
Here's one play where Marshall gets in the open field and shows off his acceleration, but fails to protect the ball in space and loses a fumble:
Marshall is a willing enough blocker on the line or downfield, but from what I saw, he doesn't contribute much. His lack of size is perhaps a factor in this but he also seemed to miss a few assignments where he whiffed on a block in space.
Marshall's move to the outside in 2015 was partially to help him learn how to deal with press coverages, according to coaches. If he is able to master that, perhaps he could become more of a downfield threat against bump-and-run coverage.
One thing that has been praised is Marshall's toughness and fearlessness when going over the middle.
His only penalty over the past two years was in the win over Minnesota this year where he was flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield. Presumably that was some kind of trick play that went awry.
Although he's young and inexperienced, you can find some good examples of football IQ from Marshall, whose understanding of the game was perhaps helped by the fact he was a quarterback in high school. In the play above where he fumbled, he obviously did a good job to find some open space as the play was extended, for example.
One place where he could display better decision-making is in the return game. There seemed to be too many examples of him fielding punts unnecessarily inside the 10, taking a fair catch when it was unnecessary and failing to take a fair catch when under pressure. Obviously he was determined to make plays, but at times needed to be more selective.
Here's an interesting play where Marshall motions across and takes the pitch, fakes a pass and then cuts back to score. Having already caught a forward pass, Marshall could not throw the ball otherwise he'd have been flagged for an illegal second forward pass. So, was this a mental error or was he actually being extremely smart and always intended to use the threat of a pass as a fake to open up the middle? You decide:
It's perhaps not a great sign that Marshall's former teammate, Devin Smith, struggled to adjust to the Jets' system, although he did miss most of camp through injuries.
As noted above, there seemed to be a disconnect between Marshall and his quarterback at times in respect of the timing or placement of throw. That was the case with Smith last year too, so it could be a pattern to keep an eye out for.
Also, with the comparison to Kerley mentioned above, it's worth remembering that Kerley was basically just a return man last season and they didn't really have a role for him on offense.
Special teams is where Marshall has the best chance to make his mark. The punt return role is wide open and Marshall's open field running skills make him a dynamic return option:
You have to take the rough with the smooth, though, as he did have some fumbles and mental errors with the Buckeyes.
Could Marshall also return kickoffs effectively? Kerley didn't have much success with those, perhaps due to his lack of top-end speed, so maybe that would be an issue with Marshall too. But he returned each of the three kickoffs he fielded in college for more than 25 yards, including a nice 36-yard runback in the bowl game. Marshall didn't contribute in coverage at OSU, but could be an option there with the Jets. He had six special teams tackles in high school.
Marshall was suspended by the team for the 2015 season opener for marijuana use. Indications are that maybe this was a one-off mistake, but it will have raised concerns over his maturity.
For the record, coaches have said that he practices well. In particular, he showed good mental toughness and work ethic following that costly fumble in the Minnesota game, spending extra time catching punts in the snow and bouncing back with a four-touchdown performance that included the only punt return touchdown of his college career.
Having red-shirted the 2013 season due to a series of minor injuries, Marshall didn't miss any time due to injury in 2014 or 2015. However, he did suffer a torn meniscus and cartilage damage in the spring of 2014 and had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery.
When initially assessing the undrafted free agent class each year, the moves that tend to get the most attention are the ones where a high profile player was expected to be a pretty high draft pick. Marshall fits right into that category. Vontaze Burfict is a good recent example of someone who most people expected to be a high pick that went undrafted (in his case, due to off-field concerns) and then ended up being a productive contributor.
However, what you'll often find is that the undrafted free agents who make more of an immediate impact are the less-heralded pickups. In a way, this stands to reason. If a guy everyone was aware of was passed on by 32 teams, clearly they didn't feel he was worth drafting. In the case of a guy like Burfict, that can prove incorrect, but often the reason teams pass on a potential pick proves to be the reason why they don't make it at the pro level.
On the other hand, if a team picks up a less-heralded player, then many of the teams who drafted other players instead didn't even have him on their radar. So it's not like all 32 teams have looked at him in depth and gone in another direction due to his flaws.
The prevailing narrative on Marshall was that his combine performance led to teams questioning his athleticism and perhaps that was a factor, especially after he was unable to improve upon his 40-yard dash time at his pro day. However, his combine performance was actually pretty good other than the 40 time. So reviewing the film on Marshall leads me to believe his going undrafted has more to do with his lack of experience, questionable instincts and ball security, perhaps coupled with concerns over his maturity.
That doesn't mean teams would be writing him off, just that they didn't feel comfortable spending a pick on him. Having already drafted a wide receiver in the seventh round, the Jets were obviously keen to bring Marshall into the mix too, as evidenced by them giving him $12,500 in guaranteed money -- the third most out of all their undrafted signings.
Marshall is young (still only 20), with good measurables and comes from a top program -- all attributes that many of this year's rookie class share. Where he differs from most is in the off-field concerns. But given his age, it could be a good gamble to hope this was a one-off mistake he has since learned from. He's certainly an exciting player, capable of making things happen, but he'll need to show discipline, maturity and consistency because he won't last very long if he makes the same kind of costly mistakes that he sometimes made in college.
Up next: We'll take a look at the newest undrafted free agent addition, North Carolina running back Romar Morris. Could he be another in the mix for a special teams role? Let us know in the comments who you'd like us to look at after that.