There and Back Again, a Cornerback's Tale.
Nick Marshall is a man of many talents. Nick was a top recruit in both football and basketball coming out of high school. Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray referred to Marshall as the greatest athlete Murray had ever seen. He once scored 50+ on future Georgia and NBA star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He initially chose to go to Georgia and play cornerback and intended to be a two sport star for the Dawgs. To Auburn's great fortune, things didn't go as planned for Nick and he wound up quarterbacking on the Plains.
Even on grass, Nick Marshall moves like a point guard. His motions are smooth, instinctive, and perfect. He picks up new skills quickly. Nick was just awful in his first start for Auburn, going 10-19 for 99 yards. It was a bad 10-19, some of those throws weren't close. By the end of the season, he was one of the most efficient passers in college football. Last season, Nick obliterated Auburn's single game passing yards record against Alabama's vaunted defense. While Tre Mason was a bigger name in Auburn's 2013 miracle season, Auburn would not have made it to Pasadena without Nick Marshall.
On the next level, Nick projects as a cornerback. We don't have much film of Nick working on the defensive side of the ball so in this preview, let's start with what we know and work backwards to what we don't know.
|40 YD||20 YD||10 YD||225 BENCH||VERTICAL JUMP||BROAD||SHUTTLE||3-CONE DRILL|
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These numbers were fairly average for defensive backs at the Combine. Out of 55 DBs at the Combine, Marshall finished 12th in vertical jump, 13th in broad jump, 18th in drill and shuttle, 23rd in 40 yard dash, and 30th in benchpress. His height (6'1") and weight (207) give him an acceptable frame for a defensive back. He has great hands.
Frankly, I'm shocked his agility didn't measure better. You often hear commenters talk about a player's "speed in pads" meaning, that a player's in game speed matches or seems to exceed his 40 yard dash. Nick Marshall's speed is good, but his quickness on the field is as good as any player we've had at Auburn in a long time.
Strengths and Weaknesses
So, here's what we know. Nick Marshall is a supremely gifted athlete with an aptitude for kinetic learning. His athletic talent is summed up in this video:
Projecting his ability to cornerback is difficult because (1) there's not a lot of film of him playing that position and (2) not many college quarterbacks (in fact, none I could find) have ever successfully transitioned to cornerback. The closest comparison I could find was Scott Frost who transitioned to safety after a very successful career as an option quarterback with Nebraska. Frost played in the NFL for five seasons, saw action mostly on special teams, and accumulated 33 tackles.
The most recent film we have of Nick playing corner comes from the Senior Bowl. He arrived in Mobile planning to play quarterback. On the first day of practice, he abruptly transitioned to corner, a position he hadn't played since his freshman year of college.
The practice video from the Senior Bowl is hard to come by three months later but from what I saw, it appears Nick picked up coverage on short, precision routes easily. He read receiver's breaks well and stayed in their hip pocket. He did a good job of reading receivers eyes and turning his head to find the ball in the air. He had some trouble with more athletic receivers making a single move and blowing right past him on deep routes. Really, using this film is almost unfair because Nick was relearning skills against the top, well-polished, senior wide receivers.
Subject to this limitation, Nick displayed his quick learning curve at the Senior Bowl. Less than a week after transitioning to corner, he led the South team with five tackles.
In short, Marshall is a project at cornerback. He won't shy away from contact and he's athletic enough to play the position. He has the frame. He's tall and has long arms. The question is, how long will it take him to develop his skills and contribute as a corner in the NFL? Will he land on a roster willing to develop him? I certainly hope so. He likely won't become a true "shut down" corner but he has more than enough ability to cover the slot and serve as a second corner or nickelback in the NFL.