Nick Marshall isn't a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect, but that doesn't mean he is incapable of leading the Auburn Tigers into the College Football Playoff as the director of one of college football's most explosive offenses.
After watching the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior lead the Tigers to a 20-14 win over Kansas State, I'm convinced the explosive dual-threat playmaker is enough of a threat as a passer to help Guz Malzhan's troops make another run at the title.
Sure, Marshall struggles with his accuracy, ball placement and touch on intermediate and deep throws, but he makes enough plays in the passing game to keep opponents from honing in extensively on the Tigers' potent rushing attack. Marshall finished the night completing 17 of 31 passes for 231 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Most importantly, he made all of the plays that mattered down the stretch. From his perfectly thrown "Sluggo" slant-and-go to D'haquille Williams to seal the game to his timely quarterback-designed runs in the fourth quarter, Marshall did enough to keep the Tigers on track in a disjointed performance against a feisty opponent on the road.
From an NFL perspective, Marshall's performance did little to convince scouts that he's a quarterback prospect at the next level. He frequently missed open receivers on a variety of vertical routes that would've put the Tigers comfortably ahead early in the game. In addition, Marshall struggled finding passing lanes against the Wildcats' pass rush, resulting in a number of tipped or batted passes at the line. With accuracy, ball placement and pocket presence cited as key factors in the quarterback evaluation, Marshall's inability to excel in those areas will make him a hard sell in meeting rooms around the league.
Thus, he could be destined to play another position as a pro. While some observers have speculated that Marshall would be an intriguing possibility as an offensive weapon due to his athleticism and running skills, I believe he would make an ideal safety at the next level. He possesses the size to match up with wide receivers and tight ends in space, but also has a solid understanding of offensive concepts, which would help him play faster in the back end. With communication skills also valued heavily at the position, Marshall's experience as an offensive leader could help him become an ideal traffic cop in the secondary.
» There is always a spot in the NFL for a dynamic returner with big play ability. Thus, Tyler Lockett will certainly create a buzz in war rooms around the league after putting on a spectacular showing on special teams against Auburn. The 5-11, 175-pound senior averaged 23.7 yards per return on three attempts against the Tigers, displaying exceptional speed, quickness and burst in the open field. While NFL scouts will question his size and durability based on his slender frame, Lockett shows enough toughness as a returner to silence the skeptics concerned about his ability to survive and thrive in the league as a specialist.
As far as his chances of cracking a lineup as a wide receiver, I believe he's a natural fit as a No. 3 wide receiver at the next level. He is a polished route runner with a knack for getting open on short and intermediate routes against "off" coverage. He needs to continue to work on winning against rugged defenders using physical tactics at the line, but he's slippery and flashes enough quickness to separate from defenders out of breaks. Given the importance of having two-way players at the bottom of the roster, Lockett's ability to contribute as a returner/receiver could make him an intriguing prospect to watch leading up to the draft.
» NFL scouts will spend a lot of time at Auburn over the next few seasons checking out the games of Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams. The Tigers have a pair of prototypical No. 1 receivers at the next level, with the size, length and speed to excel as "go-to" receivers in a pro-style offense. Coates, a 6-2, 201-pound junior, is a Dwayne Bowe clone with a game that is slowly rounding into form. He's a bit unpolished as a route runner, but his natural athleticism should allow him to have success as a vertical playmaker in the pros. Williams, a 6-2, 216-pound JUCO transfer, is a gifted athlete with outstanding physical tools. Although he's still adjusting to major college football, he possesses the athletic traits to blossom into a legitimate big-time prospect down the road.
» The buzz has reportedly been building around Auburn DT Angelo Blackson, but NFL scouts in attendance on Thursday were focused intently on DE Gabe Wright. The 6-3, 284-pound senior is a versatile defender capable of playing on the edges or inside, but scouts view him as a defensive end at the next level. Against Kansas State, Wright flashed good first-step quickness and strength at the point of attack. He is long enough to keep blockers at bay, but displays the hand strength to execute "butt-and-jerk" maneuvers on the way to the quarterback. An NFC scout told me that the Auburn standout has the tools be a solid edge player as a pro. With defensive ends coveted at a premium in the NFL, Wright could garner significant interest as a developmental prospect.