It’s been 25 years since a Division III player has been selected in the top 100. Offensive lineman Ali Marpet might go by 75. The story behind one of the draft’s unlikeliest prospects. Plus, scouts on a plane and getting to know an SEC back
Introducing Ali Marpet to the NFL has brought about a handful of firsts for Andrew Ross, a 19-year agent who’s never had a client garner as much attention—17 visits or private workouts with teams—as the standout from tiny Hobart College in Western New York has received since finishing his senior season four months ago. Marpet, a 6-4, 310-pound college tackle (and likely a guard or center in the NFL) was the first Division III athlete to be invited to the Senior Bowl in more than 20 years, and he’s quietly become the hottest topic in NFL war rooms in 2015.
“I started in 1995, and I’ve had five first-round picks, including Aaron Curry,” Ross says. “And it was nowhere close to this.”
Part of Marpet’s allure derives from the mystery surrounding his game. He went to the combine and blew away the field with 30 bench press reps and a 4.98 40. He was dominant against schools like Endicott College and Rensselaer, but how does that translate to the NFL? And the inevitable question: How did he end up at Hobart?
“I didn’t exactly come out of college as the biggest freak,” says Marpet, who attended Hastings-on-Hudson High in Westchester County, N.Y. “My high school was pretty small. It was always my dream to play at Alabama, but that wasn’t even remotely a possibility for me.”
The biggest schools interested in the 200-pound tackle were Fordham and Holy Cross. He chose Hobart and landed a merit-based scholarship for part of the $57,000 yearly tuition. During his junior year, an NFL scouting service came around and tested Hobart athletes. Marpet ran a sub 5-second 40 and scored high on the Wonderlic aptitude test.
“I think I realized that I had some of the same physical tools that some of the guys going to the NFL had,” Marpet says, “I thought I had a shot.”
The next two years couldn’t have played out any better if they were scripted. He was a conference co-MVP as a senior, never allowing a sack, then the Senior Bowl—a coup—then the combine. In between his final game and the combine, he trained with Chip Smith and former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Bob Whitfield in Atlanta, and blew the veteran coaches away.
“I’m in my 26th year doing this, and I was a little skeptical," Smith says. "He came here, and it was like he was a sponge, physically and mentally. He went from 290 to 310, and he went from 20 bench reps to 30 in a matter of months. We immediately started seeing him improving every day, in his strength, technique, everything. He was the Giddy up and go, and we were the Whoa.”
As far as the other rookies could tell, Marpet might as well have been a D-I All-American. Smith observed the SEC's finest prospects gravitating toward Marpet, hanging on his every word.
“When Ali walks in the room, he’s like the pied piper,” Smith says.
Smith, who has trained more than 250 current NFL players, says he shoots straight when scouts and coaches come calling. He has a deal with draft-eligible trainees from the jump: Come here, do the job and don’t create distractions, and I will vouch for you.
“But if you screw around,” Smith says, “I have to be honest with teams, because they have to be able to take me seriously when I go to bat for guys like Ali Marpet.”
Marpet is a "diamond," Smith says, and all he had to do was polish it and point it at the sun: “He’s got to thank mom and dad for that athleticism.”
Thing is, mom and dad aren’t especially athletic, or especially large. Mom is 5-6, a grad student and musician. Dad is almost 6-feet, an Emmy-winning cinematographer and a big name in the New York fashion industry. Each day during Ali’s childhood, Bill Marpet worked long hours but always rose at 5 a.m. to work out.
“Watching that was huge for me,” Ali says. “You have to respect that.”
Ali considered a media path but ultimately majored in economics, with minors in philosophy and public policy. With his first NFL check, he plans on paying off his college loans, then put “all or most of it away.”
“Smart?” Ross says. “I’d have him handle my money.”
Where Marpet is picked (and how much that first check will pay) is anyone’s guess. The last D-III athlete taken in the top 100 was Ferrum College's Chris Warren, the 89th selection in 1990. (Warren, who played 11 NFL seasons, began his college career at Virginia but transferred after two years.) Several evaluators I spoke with pegged Marpet as a second- or third-round talent. A handful of teams have evaluated him as a tackle, while most suggest that he would play guard or center. As a raw talent and a longtime tackle, he would have a significant transition to make regarding interior line technique. And yet on draft day, the biggest factor will have been Marpet’s ability to convince teams that he believes he is ready.
“They want to know that I believe I can play at the next level,” he says. “Confidence for me is huge. They want to know if I can mentally handle the transition. I know I can, and I think the tape shows that I can.”
Five Things You Need to Know About the Draft This Week
1. All eyes will be on CB Marcus Peters and LB Shaq Thompson at Washington’s pro day Thursday in Seattle, and for two very different reasons. Thompson needs to run better than his 4.64 combine 40 at just under 230 pounds. Peters, dismissed from the program last year, will be closely monitored for body language and personal interactions in his return to campus. Ticking time bomb or shutdown corner?
2. Tuesday brought the revelation that Jameis Winston was followed by a rep for one NFL team and monitored on one of his combine flights. Fun stuff. Here’s a story along the same lines: Before making Matt Ryan the third pick in the 2008 draft, Falcons management invited him to dinner at a Boston College-area restaurant of his choosing, specifically to judge how he was treated by the staff.
3. West Virginia WR Kevin White says he's better than Amari Cooper. Cool. That quote comes up five times every draft season. More concerning is what White said next: "He's at Alabama with Nick Saban. They have a whole bunch of other tools that help him out where he's not getting double-covered… On West Virginia, it's just, ‘OK, let's shut Kevin White down.’ ” Not cool, and especially not cool in the eyes of one of these rebuilding NFL clubs looking for team guys.
4. Florida’s pro day is next week, meaning Dante Fowler Jr. has the opportunity to solidify his standing as almost everyboy’s top edge rusher of 2015. He got a great endorsement last week when LSU’s La'el Collins, one of the top-rated offensive linemen, said Fowler was the best pass rusher he faced in the SEC.
5. To say Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson is moving up draft boards would be a misnomer. In truth, we're just beginning to learn how teams have evaluated the well-seasoned red-shirt senior. At this stage, he's in the conversation for best corner available along with Trae Waynes and Marcus Peters.
Better Know a Prospect
Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne is a potential mid-round pick who led the SEC with 1,608 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014 after taking over for Tre Mason, a third-round pick of the Rams a year ago. Artis-Payne, a Harrisburg, Pa., native, transferred out of one high school where he was LeSean McCoy’s backup and spent two years out of football in between high school and community college, working odd jobs.
The MMQB: You’re just 22, but you spent two years out of football after prep school. How did that happen? And where did you work?
Artis-Payne: Honestly, nobody recruited me, and I just didn’t have anywhere I wanted to go. I got a couple warehouse jobs locally. At one point I was making gardening tools, and I worked at a Nike warehouse that moved shipments, and in another warehouse that dealt with computer chips. I was just trying to help my family out. That’s why I signed with Under Armour, because Nike scarred me for life. The job wasn’t great. In the end, one of my old high school coaches got in contact with a junior college, and that worked out.
The MMQB: It’s been written that you have 10 brothers. True story?
Artis-Payne: Kind of. I have two actual brothers, but I just grew up with a lot of people in my house. It was pretty much a community household. My parents are real generous, and they work hard and provided for me and my two brothers. And my dad was really a father figure for a lot of kids, so kids who grew up in bad situations moved into our house and became family. My dad’s a city bus driver, and when he’s not working, a mentor and a coach.
The MMQB: You transfered out of Bishop McDevitt, where LeSean was the starter. Then you end up at Auburn, and if Mason doesn’t declare for the draft, you might have backed him up. Did you think you’d get this opportunity to be drafted?
Artis-Payne: I knew I was good enough to play. That was never a question. I always get to battle it out with some of the best running backs, and it doesn’t do anything but make me better. I still talk to LeSean and Tre, and I train with Tre. It’s nice to have those two guys to bounce things off of.
Draft Season Do-Over
Every week, we’ll ask a current NFL player what he would have done differently in the time between his final collegiate game and the day he was drafted…
DE Zach Kerr, Indianapolis Colts (2014, undrafted out of Delaware)
“If I had a second chance I would’ve spent that time breaking some of my bad habits off the field. I would’ve been smarter in my decision-making in life. I would’ve tried to surround myself with the right people, and it would’ve saved me some trouble. With football, I think I would’ve focused more on learning different styles of defense. I played in an attacking 4-3 my whole life, and I was thinking that’s what everybody in the NFL does. When I got to Indianapolis, it was all new.”
Quote of the Week
Former Buccaneers general manager and current ESPN analyst Mark Dominik, speaking on Colin Cowherd's radio show, after it was reported that an NFL team monitored Jameis Winston on airline flights.
“We tracked players. I would usually use my scouts. … With Justin Blackmon, there was a lot of concern about his character at Oklahoma State. We had [a scout] follow Justin Blackmon around Stillwater, and we found out about this bar, the Cricket. So he sat there for one week, every day, to check how many times Justin Blackmon came in. And he came in too many times, and we took him off the board.”
Blackmon has since flashed tremendous talent as the fifth overall pick of the Jaguars in 2012, though he’s spent much of his career serving suspensions for violations of the league substance abuse policy.
Stat of the Week
Remember what a monster Reggie Bush was at USC? It seemed as if he could explode for a 40-yard gain on any given play, whether he was taking an off-tackle handoff or a Matt Leinart swing pass. Here’s a look at his longest plays from scrimmage as a junior in 2005, the year he rushed for 1,740, had 478 receiving yards and eventually became the second pick in the draft.
10+ yards: 44
20+ yards: 11
30+ yards: 5
40+ yards: 6
50+ yards: 5
Has there ever been a better big-play college running back? Short answer: Yes. His name is Melvin Gordon, and he rushed for 2,587 yards last year and did this:
10+ yards: 64
20+ yards: 36
30+ yards: 22
40+ yards: 17
50+ yards: 10
Did he have more touches? Certainly. So, for argument’s sake, lets reduce Gordon’s numbers from a 362-touch season to Bush's 237 opportunities, rounding up or down as necessary:
10+ yards: 42
20+ yards: 23
30+ yards: 15
40+ yards: 11
50+ yards: 7
So there you have it—the most explosive runner since Reggie Bush is a projected late-first round pick. Why? A few reasons: Gordon’s 4.52 in the 40 doesn’t dazzle like Reggie’s did, and Gordon has shown mediocre hands, in both ball protection and receiving, with only 19 catches to Bush’s 37 in their final seasons. And Gordon likes to dance in the hole and bounce outside rather than hit a seam, which will eliminate him from consideration for a handful of coaches. Still, the numbers indicate the kind of success that’s difficult to argue.
SCORCHING HOT TAKE OF THE WEEK
"Hi, I'm Rob Lowe." "And I'm the Jameis Winston pro day workout Rob Lowe."
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) March 31, 2015
Funny, but still flaming. And the sober take...
Comical how subjective these Pro Days are reading various Winston opinions
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) April 1, 2015
Unpopular, but oh so right.
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