As a Recruit
Marshall was a 3-star recruit who was a bit of a late bloomer on the recruiting trail. In fact, Georgia Tech had no reported interest in Marshall until nearly the end of the recruiting cycle, when it was questioned by some fans as to whether or not there was even a scholarship available for him. There was, and the running back from Raleigh, NC committed to the Jackets over offers from Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
Originally offered as an A-back, coaches were impressed with his size when he showed up on campus, and moved him to B-back. They saw that he had something to offer that position group that had been absent for some time: explosion.
It wasn't a good year for Georgia Tech's B-backs, but Marshall was the best of them. Given his limited playing time early in the season, Marshall put up some truly impressive stats, and made the most of his carries. He was by far the most explosive player at the position, and it showed in the stat line.
Season Stat Line
Impressive Stat line given the limited number of carries. Synjyn days in 2014 only posted an average Yards per Carry of 5.9. Marshall was 1.7 yards better. Now, there is a point to be made here about efficiency vs. explosion. While the average comes out better, Marshall benefited from a great deal of explosive plays while Days could be relied upon to get closer to 5 yards every time he touched the ball. Marshall also got a good deal of explosive carries during the first two games against inferior competition, so the next set of stats removed those two games.
Stats with first 2 games removed
While the numbers aren't quite as good, the average is still greater than that of Days, if just barely. This further illustrates the dichotomy between the efficient Days and the explosive Marshall. Within any offense, efficiency and explosion are both important. If an offense is deficient in one of the two areas, it will struggle to be effective enough to win games. Marshall is the most explosive B-Back Georgia Tech has had since Jonathan Dwyer, but his efficiency was a bit lacking this year. Part of that is on the offensive line, but Marshall will need to work on driving for the tough yards a bit this off-season. A year in the weight room should help tremendously in that regard.
To start off Marshall's analysis, I decided to do a bit of investigating on Mesh times. I have seen complaints online that one of Marshall's flaws is that he is too slow through the mesh, and that it hurts his efficiency. As a quick test, I decided to time Marshall from snap to mesh decision, then compared that to times for Synjyn Days in 2014. I used games late in the year for both cases, so that JT's 2014 early season learning curve didn't come into play. All plays in question were inside veers(true triple options) to avoid any bias there as well. Unfortunately, the sample size was a bit small. The offense ran very little Inside Veer in the final games of 2014, and chose instead to Zone Dive teams to death.
With the numbers above, it can be reasonably assumed that Marshall is no slower through the mesh than Days, and may even be faster. This means that the mesh isn't the issue that limits Marshall's efficiency. Experience, size, and the offensive line are likely the bigger factors.
From the early games, it was evident that Marshall brought something to the table that had not been there in some time. His first carry was an explosive touchdown against Alcorn State, and the hype surrounding him began. He showed an elite level of burst and great speed, and was simply too athletic for the FCS team to handle. However, it was also in that game that Marshall showed his biggest weakness, one that continued to haunt him for the rest of the year and limited his carries. His weakness was and is ball security. At the position that touches the ball more than any other save the Quarterback, ball security is a major issue.
Blocking was also a bit inconsistent, but that's expected of a true freshman. He didn't always hit his block, but I saw numerous occasions where he did throw effective blocks. As he gets more reps he'll be able to hit his blocks with higher frequency.
Marshall has extraordinarily quick foot speed, which helps him to reach top speed quickly and make sudden cuts. However, it sometimes led to him being tripped up by ankle tackles in open space. If he is able to work a bit on balance this off season, he will have several more explosive touchdowns in 2016 than he did this past year.
Marshall matured as a runner over the course of the year, and it became most evident in his final game. Against georgia, Marshall was a patient runner who used his blocks well to create as much space as possible for himself. He didn't have the same level of explosion, but he did show that he had the ability to be an efficient runner in the future. What I saw from him in that game led me to believe that he should remain at B-back. While some may see his speed and quickness as a reason to move him back to the A-back position, it is his instincts and abilities as an inside runner that will allow him to remain the feature back in Paul Johnson's offense.
Heading into the spring, Marshall should be the favorite to win the B-back job despite numerous competitors for the position. If he can work on his efficiency, ball security, and blocking, he should easy be able to retain his starting role. He will likely split snaps with some of the larger B-backs during the season, but Marshall's ceiling as a runner is too high for him not to see a large workload. It may not be this year, but Marshall will eventually have to defend his job from Early Enrollee Dedrick Mills, and we'll get a taste of that future competition this spring. It should be a fun one to watch.