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Earlier this week, the Jets signed cornerback Nick Marshall off the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad. I've been researching and reviewing his film to try and assess what he brings to the table.
The 24-year-old Marshall is listed at 6'1" and 206 pounds and was an undrafted free agent out of Auburn last season. He was the starting quarterback for the Tigers in 2013 and 2014 but converted to cornerback during the pre-draft process. He was a special teams contributor with the Jaguars in his rookie year and played extensively on defense in the last four games. However, he did not make it through final cuts in the preseason.
Let's recap Marshall's career so far and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses. Note: Some stats from this article are exclusively provided by Pro Football Focus.
Who is Nick Marshall?
Marshall began his college career as a cornerback with Georgia, but was dismissed from the team and had to go via the junior college route to make it back to a top program. After two years playing quarterback at a junior college, Marshall transferred to Auburn and won an open competition to be their starting quarterback.
In 2013, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and led his team to the BCS title game with some late-game heroics. Auburn had only been 3-9 in their previous season. Over the two seasons, he passed for 34 touchdowns and ran for 23 more.
Marshall was more of a dual threat quarterback than a traditional pro passer and lacked ideal size for the position at the NFL level. It therefore made sense when he announced he was converting back to cornerback, and he impressed in drills and workouts during the pre-draft process. However, he went unselected in the 2015 draft and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jaguars.
In his rookie year, Marshall played just three snaps in the first 12 games but was a contributor on special teams, including in the return game. In the last four weeks, he saw more action on defense and made his first NFL start. Overall, he recorded 13 tackles and a pass defensed.
He was added to Jacksonville's practice squad after failing to make it through final cuts in September. Having signed him, the Jets will be required, by rule, to retain him on their active roster for at least three weeks.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles has already praised Marshall's length and athleticism. Based on his workout numbers, his straight line speed (4.54 40-yard dash) and agility are about average, but he did well in the vertical jump and broad jump, which suggests he could have good closing speed.
In the bench press, Marshall achieved just 12 reps, so he might need to continue to work on his strength to be effective in press coverage.
Marshall is exclusively an outside corner and has hardly seen any reps in the slot with the Jaguars in regular season or preseason action. He is often employed in press coverage.
Marshall can look a little raw at times but does flash some natural ability. His coverage numbers in the preseason have been reasonable, although his regular season numbers weren't quite as good. They were dramatically inflated by two big plays, though, in a relatively small sample size.
Marshall seems to struggle in off-coverage. On one play against Brandin Cooks, he was playing off and lacked the initial acceleration to stay with Cooks down the seam when he tried to latch on. That went for a 71-yard touchdown. In the preseason, he gave up a couple of back-shoulder throws where he was playing too far off and unable to recover back to the ball.
In press coverage, he fares a little better, although he can be inconsistent with his jam from time to time. However, on one play, he did a perfect job of slowing the receiver at the line and then running one step ahead of them on a go route to the end zone. On another, against the Jets in the preseason, he slowed Jeremy Ross up and almost intercepted the pass on a quick hitch route, but was perhaps lucky not to get called for making contact beyond five yards.
As noted, Marshall plays a lot of press coverage and this seems to be where he is most comfortable.
In the preseason, he found himself matched up one-on-one with Mike Evans close to the goal line. Evans caught a jump-ball for an easy touchdown as it appeared Marshall had mistimed his jump, but a closer look at the footage shows that Evans sneakily pushed Marshall off as he left the ground, throwing him off-balance.
In preseason action this year, Marshall was penalized twice, on consecutive plays. One of these saw him called for pass interference as he dragged the receiver down at the top of his route and the other saw him called for holding down the field.
There are also examples of him getting a bit "handsy" down the field, which is something he'll need to clean up, even though he got away with it on those plays.
Marshall's ability to close and his awareness gives him a good chance of being able to break up passes. One habit he seems to have is to trail receivers on slant routes and then try to make a play on the ball. He did disrupt a couple of passes that way, but also gave up a touchdown.
In the clip below, you can see he makes an effort to locate the football, but sees it late and his own momentum carries him out of the play. TY Hilton gained 57 on the play.
However, later in the game, while covering Donte Moncrief, he was able to get his head turned much earlier and jump up to break up the pass over the top. He therefore shows signs of being able to make adjustments.
He had his first NFL interception this year in the preseason on a pass thrown to the slot that was deflected straight up into the air.
Marshall hasn't contributed much in run defense, but made a stop for no gain on one play where he smartly maintained contain, first by getting upfield and then recovered to pull down the running back as he cut back inside.
Marshall hasn't had any missed tackles on defense in regular season or preseason action. He missed one on special teams where he was dealing with a couple of blockers and unable to set himself up properly to bring down the return man, although he did slow him up on that play.
Most of the tackles he has made were routine plays down the field, so he hasn't been able to impress much with his hitting or technique. In fact, on a few of the plays he made on special teams, he threw a shoulder at the return man rather than making a form tackle, so that might be somewhere he needs to improve.
As you'd expect from an outside corner, there isn't much requirement for Marshall to rush the passer and he has never done so in preseason or regular season action. In 11 games as a backup cornerback for Georgia in 2011, he had zero sacks.
Having played the quarterback position, Marshall should have a better grasp than most defensive backs of the approach the opposing offense will be taking.
Marshall had one play on special teams where he jumped offside. He also made a couple of questionable decisions when fielding punts and also seemed to struggle with avoiding blockers when defending in the open field. He looks comfortable with the ball in his hands, though.
Marshall has worked hard to get to where he has at a position he wasn't playing for most of his college career.
The fact he was kicked off the team at Georgia for a violation of team rules is disappointing, but he obviously climbed his way back to prominence.
Marshall contributed in a number of roles on special teams with the Jaguars, including extensively as a gunner and in the vice role. He had three special teams tackles in the preseason and regular season action, but also had three penalties. He added a fumble recovery on the punt coverage unit. There was one sparkling play from the gunner position where he blew past his man and took down Jarvis Landry immediately after he caught a punt.
He also saw action as a return man. He had modest numbers as a kickoff returner, with his longest return being 36 yards. He also had a 35-yarder in the preseason. On punt returns, he had a 20-yarder and also a 27-yarder in preseason. The 27-yarder saw him cut back to the left and use his speed to get outside and turn the corner. However, his other seven returns netted just 25 yards and he had two muffed punts. He also dropped a kick-off and had to fall on it for a touchback.
Marshall missed some time in 2013 with a knee issue, but has been healthy since joining the Jaguars.
The Jets obviously need cover with Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine and Darryl Roberts all currently on the injury report. However, Marshall is a player who has some potential for growth, so he could also be a developmental project.
Marshall can also add instant value to the active roster by contributing on special teams. He will probably be able to contribute immediately as a gunner and in kick coverage. He'll also give them another option at punt returner in case Jalin Marshall has any issues.
While he's obviously raw, Marshall's skill-set could be useful if the Jets employ him situationally. And it's never a bad idea to add an athletic youngster with upside into the mix when they have a potential mentor in Revis to learn from.