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Remember Keith Marshall? Georgia RB Shines at Combine, Makes Statement to NFL

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 26, 2016

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Running back Keith Marshall #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs carries the ball against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Each year the headlines at the NFL Scouting Combine are dominated by the elite prospects. We want to know about Laremy Tunsil's bench-press performance. And Jared Goff's hands—oh my we must know about Jared Goff's hands!

When the running backs hit the field for drills Friday though, it wasn't Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott or Alabama's Derrick Henry who generated the most buzz.

That title went to Georgia's Keith Marshall, and in tearing up Lucas Oil Stadium, Marshall reminded both fans and NFL scouts that underneath the failures in Athens lies awesome potential. Potential worth taking a flier on at the end of April.

Actually, to be fair Marshall started making noise almost from the moment he got to Indy.

On Thursday, Marshall posted 25 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. That ranked the 5'11", 219-pounder fourth among all running backs and tops among tailbacks:

Three more, to be precise.

However, to say that Marshall was just getting started is an understatement.

In his scouting report on Marshall at NFL.com, Lance Zierlein's first sentence regarding the back's weaknesses is blunt. "Doesn't look as fast as before his 2013 ACL tear."

Keith Marshall Stats
YearGAtt.YardsAvg.TDRec.YardsTD
2012141177596.5811911
20135562464.4181111
2014312242.001-50
201511683565.234281
Per CFB Stats

And it was hard not to agree with the point. Marshall was a 247Sports 5-star prospect and North Carolina high school legend who showed flashes as a freshman of being the next great tailback for the Bulldogs.

Instead, there was an ACL tear as a sophomore. Difficulties during recovery. A running back who just didn't look the same. And the implosion of a once-promising career.

Only one person didn't realize Marshall wasn't fast anymore: Marshall. At least, he sure seemed to have forgotten when he made his first attempt in the 40-yard dash:

NFL @NFL

.@FootballUGA's Keith Marshall with the fastest 40 of the day: 4.29u. https://t.co/V2og5F26Av

Yes, that's 4.29 seconds. With a 2.

As Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller tweeted, Marshall's second (unofficial) 40 time was a bit slower, but even calling it "slower" seems a little unfair:

Matt Miller @nfldraftscout

Keith Marshall clocks 4.29 and 4.31 unofficial in the 40

The 4.31-second official time went into the history books, and while that second number may not be quite as impressive at first glance, the shine bounces back when proper perspective is applied, which Rotoworld's Josh Norris did:

Josh Norris @JoshNorris

Keith Marshall's 4.31 (219 lbs) is the third best RB forty time since 2006. Chris Johnson (195 lbs) 4.24 Dri Archer (173 lbs) 4.26

Those wheels at 219 pounds? There is going to be some tape watched of Marshall tonight, my friends.

That tape shows a tale of two tailbacks. Before the ACL tear Marshall was an explosive change of pace to Todd Gurley. He regularly gashed defenses for big gains en route to over 800 total yards (and almost 6.5 yards a carry) as a freshman.

After? A tentative ball-carrier with iffy instincts who, as draftnik Shane Hallam observed, was more likely to run into defenders than around them:

Shane P. Hallam @ShanePHallam

Keith Marshall really never developed a feel for football though and how to evade tacklers. He is a project with HUGE upside.

Yes, Marshall did average over five yards a carry in 2015, but had starter Nick Chubb not gotten hurt, Marshall probably wouldn't have received the 68 totes he did.

A player some thought was headed for collegiate glory and NFL stardom had fallen to the point where it was no sure bet he would get drafted at all.

That left Marshall with a lot of work to do at the combine. As Andy Fenelon of NFL.com reported, on Wednesday that meant an "intense" medical check Marshall said "went great."

"All the teams, I didn't have any re-checks or anything like that," he said. "The doctors said [my knee] looks as good as it can, so I'm excited about that. I knew that coming in, but I'm excited I got cleared and all that and I'm ready to go."

There's saying the knee is good, but then there's showing it on the field, and that's what made Marshall's performance in Indianapolis Friday's biggest storyline.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

It's what the combine is all about. The fringe prospects availing themselves of a golden opportunity to show scouts and coaches they can play in the NFL. Or in Marshall's case, to remind scouts and coaches he can.

As Zierlein wrote, it wasn't exactly a state secret heading into the combine that from an upside perspective, Marshall had the makings of an intriguing Day 3 selection.

"Marshall could become a lottery ticket for a zone scheme team willing to take a chance that his speed and confidence return with a fresh start in a new location," he wrote. "His ceiling is much higher than many of the Day 3 running backs who could be drafted ahead of him."

That upside was on full display at the combine. So much so, in fact, that at this point it isn't so much a matter of "if" an NFL team is going to try its hand at that lottery ticket.

It's just a matter of what team and which round.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report, a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.

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