The fastest offensive lineman at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine and a standout at this year’s Senior Bowl, Ali Marpet has a chance to be the most highly drafted player from a Division III school in 25 years.
No prospect from the Division III level has been a top-100 draft pick since the Seattle Seahawks selected running back Chris Warren out of Ferrum College with the 89th overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft. Since then, no Division III player has been drafted higher than the 114th overall pick, where the Jacksonville Jaguars selected wide receiver Cecil Shorts out of Mount Union in 2011.
Marpet, a virtual lock to be the first player drafted from Division III since the Detroit Lions selected Albion cornerback Chris Greenwood in 2012, is a strong candidate to end the drought.
A 2014 AFCA All-American from Hobart College, Marpet is currently ranked as the draft’s 80th-best prospect by CBSSports.com. Many draft analysts—including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler—agree that Marpet is the top small-school talent in this year’s class.
It’s not every year that NFL teams send their scouts to Hobart, which has less than 2,500 combined students with its sister school, William Smith College. There has not been a draft pick from Hobart since 1948, when the Lions selected tackle Bob Williamson with the 37th overall pick.
Even Marpet, in an interview with Bleacher Report last week, admitted that making it to the NFL looked like a pipe dream when he committed to Hobart in 2011.
“I think everybody dreams of playing in the NFL, but it certainly didn’t seem realistic,” Marpet told B/R. “I did have a goal of being an All-American when I came into camp freshman year, but not playing in the NFL, that didn’t seem like a real thing.”
All of this leaves some big questions to be answered. How did Marpet, a player who clearly has the physical potential to play at the next level, end up at such a tiny school? And what enabled Marpet, in spite of his school’s obscurity, to emerge as a player who is not only in a position to be drafted, but in serious consideration to leap some of the biggest names from the biggest schools on the draft board?
Landing at Hobart
A 2010 second-team Class C all-state selection from Hastings High School in New York, Marpet was recruited as a defensive lineman by a number of Football Championship Subdivision schools, including Holy Cross, Fordham and Marist.
Ultimately, Marpet made an academic decision in choosing Hobart.
“It was one of the better schools that I could get into,” Marpet said. “I was almost certain that I wanted to major in economics, and they had it there.”
Marpet acknowledged that when he was coming out of high school, playing on the defensive line was a “more attractive” option to him than playing offensive tackle.
“Offensive line isn’t really a sexy position,” Marpet said.
It was Kevin DeWall, the offensive coordinator, offensive line and tight ends coach at Hobart, who made the decision that Marpet should be a blocker.
“Even though I was undersized, [DeWall] thought I had the frame and athleticism to play offensive line, so that ended up working out pretty nicely,” Marpet said.
After seeing action in six games as a freshman, Marpet became the starting left tackle for the Statesmen in 2012 and earned All-Liberty League honors in his first year as a starter.
It was during his junior season, for which he once again earned all-league honors, that Marpet realized his NFL dream could actually be a reality, when scouts from the NFL’s BLESTO and National scouting services came to upstate New York to watch Marpet run the 40-yard dash.
“I sort of realized I had the physical attributes of other offensive linemen that are trying to be in the league,” Marpet said. “I think I measured up to some of those guys and I thought, why not me?”
Since then, Marpet has continued to prove that he deserves a shot at the next level. Coming off an exceptional senior season in which he did not allow a single sack, according to Hobart’s official athletics website, Marpet has not only held his own, but stood out, as he has participated in key events leading up to the 2015 NFL draft.
A Dominant Collegiate Left Tackle with the Traits of an NFL Guard
The biggest reason to be concerned about Marpet’s transition to the NFL is simply that he faces an enormous leap in level of competition. The size, speed and skills of the opponents he went up against on Division III teams do not compare with those of the defenders he will have to block in the NFL.
With that being said, Marpet’s film from his collegiate career was just as impressive as one would expect it to be for an NFL hopeful against small-school teams.
Possessing a combination of size, strength and athleticism befitting of a high-level Division I player, Marpet consistently stood out in Division III games as the most physically gifted player on the field.
Able to put defenders on the ground with a nasty punch, Marpet served more pancakes than an IHOP, while he also routinely moved inferior defenders away from runs as if they were blocking sleds.
Often able to overpower his collegiate competition, Marpet also exhibited a great ability to accelerate downfield and make key run blocks at the second level and beyond.
The clip below shows one of Marpet’s most outstanding plays from this past season. Able to get out in front of a throwback screen, Marpet (No. 55) ran more than 30 yards downfield to make a block that cleared a defender out of the lane and sprung teammate Alex Furtado to a 70-yard touchdown.
Against bigger, faster and more technically refined adversaries in the NFL, Marpet will no longer have the immense physical advantages that he did at Hobart. But doubts that scouts have about his game translating to the next level should be at least somewhat alleviated by his performances at the Senior Bowl in January and the scouting combine in February.
As Marpet got his first taste of action against NFL-caliber prospects in the Senior Bowl, one might have expected that Marpet would be overwhelmed by their physical traits and have his flaws exposed, especially considering he was playing a new position—guard—after years of playing tackle at Hobart.
Instead, Marpet continued to dominate in spite of the upgrade in competition. Following an impressive week of practices, Marpet graded out as the best offensive lineman in the Senior Bowl game, according to Pro Football Focus.
With his stock already rising thanks to his great play in Mobile, Marpet proved at the combine that his physical traits really are outstanding, even by NFL standards. The only offensive lineman at this year’s event to complete the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds, Marpet finished within the top 10 in every measurable combine drill except the vertical jump.
|Ali Marpet's 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Results|
|40-Yard Dash||Bench||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone||20-Yard Shuttle|
|4.98 seconds||30 reps||30.5"||9'0"||7.33 seconds||4.47 seconds|
Combining his impressive college tape with what he showed at the Senior Bowl and in Indianapolis, Marpet has the look of a future starter on an NFL interior offensive line.
At 6’4” and 307 pounds with 33.375” arms, Marpet lacks the length that NFL teams look for in offensive tackles. Nonetheless, Marpet believes he will be able to play multiple positions at the next level.
“I think one thing I’m going to have to bring to a team is versatility,” Marpet said. “I think I’ll be able to play both guard positions, center, right tackle if I need to in a pinch. The reality is it’s different than playing left tackle, but I think I can learn it.”
Marpet knows that coming from the small-school ranks could put a ceiling on how far his draft stock can rise. His past, however, is not in his focus.
“There’s not much I can do about the level of competition that I’ve played against at the Division III level, to be honest,” Marpet said. “All I can do is control how much work I’m putting in and how much effort I’m putting out on each play, so at the end of the day, I think I’ll be able to play at the next level, just because I have the physical tools to do so.”
What’s Next for Marpet
Currently carrying as much positive momentum as anyone in this year’s NFL draft class, Marpet still has a number of remaining opportunities to impress scouts and keep his draft stock rising.
Marpet’s pro day at Hobart is scheduled for March 13. He is also receiving significant interest from NFL teams who want to schedule visits and private workouts, according to his agent, Andy Ross:
Prospective employers have not been the only ones calling for Marpet’s time since the combine. He has made a bevy of media appearances leading up to the draft, including multiple segments on NFL Network and, as seen below, an interview with CBS Sports’ Jim Rome.
In his interview with B/R, Marpet noted that being in the spotlight is a big difference from his time in college.
“Especially as an offensive lineman at Hobart, I wasn’t doing all the interviews and all that stuff,” Marpet said. “But at the end of the day, football’s football, and it doesn’t matter what division.”
The NFL’s interest in Marpet is widespread. He told B/R that between his senior season, the Senior Bowl and the combine, he has met with at least one representative from each of the league’s 32 franchises.
Growing up, Marpet was a fan of the New York Giants, “so playing for them would be awesome,” Marpet said. As he has gone through the draft process, he has been in communication with Giants offensive lineman Justin Pugh, he said, along with Washington Redskins offensive tackle Morgan Moses and Kansas City Chiefs center Eric Kush.
Ultimately, however, Marpet says he “would be happy playing anywhere.”
The big question now, of course, is when and where Marpet will be selected in this year’s draft.
Ian Wharton, an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report, believes that Marpet should be a Round 2 draft pick.
Bleacher Report’s Scott Carasik, who wrote about Marpet in January, considers Marpet to be the top guard in this year’s draft class and is adamant that Marpet is best suited for that position in the NFL.
Not every draft projection of Marpet is quite so generous. Matt Miller, despite grading Marpet as the top small-schooler, only considers Marpet to be the fourth-best guard and 117th-best prospect in this year’s draft class, even after the combine.
Even that projection, however, is impressive for a player who could not have imagined four years ago that he would be in this position.
Asked why an NFL team should take a chance on him, Marpet said he thinks his biggest selling point is that he is “an extremely competitive person.”
“I think that a team will just get a competitor out of me,” Marpet said. “I also pride myself on being a student of the game, I’m always trying to learn.”
Despite the current focus on being drafted, however, Marpet said he does not consider that to be the most important step in his transition to professional football.
“Every rookie dreams of being drafted, but my ultimate goal is to be on an NFL roster, which is more important,” Marpet said. “So whether I’m drafted or I don’t get drafted, I just want to be on the roster at the end of the day.”
If everything Marpet has done so far leading up to the draft is any indication, he will not only be on an NFL roster, but likely competing for a starting spot within his first or second season in the league.
All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. All measurables and combine results were found at NFL.com. The GIF included in the article was made at Gfycat.com using video from Hobart's YouTube channel.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.