Seventh round draft picks present an interesting conundrum for NFL teams. On the one hand there's very little external pressure involved. No one calls for the GM's job because his seventh round picks aren't making the Pro Bowl enough. On the other hand, personnel folks realize that it's still their job to find value late in the draft. To find the players who are going to be the glue that holds their team together on playoff runs.
There's the temptation to get too cute. To take some guy with unlimited upside who's really been tearing it up in the Bulgarian college ranks. There's also the temptation to play it safe. To take yet another defensive tackle who you know may or may not see the field because no one ever got second guessed for mumbling some cliche about "games being won up front" and "not being able to have too many big bodies."
No one in D.C. is going to remember it if Keith Marshall doesn't pan out as an NFL tailback. But if he does, he's going to make the Redskins look really smart. Marshall had only 253 collegiate carries, and nearly half (117) came in his freshman 2012 season. A horrific, multi-ligament knee injury on the terrible, inexcusably crappy turf at Neyland Stadium in 2013 forever altered the trajectory of his college career, and frankly is probably the reason he's a seventh round selection in this draft.
The past two seasons for Marshall have been about incremental steps back from that injury, which two decades ago would have been career ending. Marshall played in only 3 games in 2014, carrying the ball 12 times for a paltry 24 yards. 2015 saw Marshall used sparingly by world class play caller Brian Schottenheimer, playing in 11 games but tallying only 68 carries. But Marshall averaged 5.15 yards on those attempts, flashing traces of the speed he put to devastating use as a freshman. Still, he looked tentative through the hole at other times. As if he wasn't sure how much of the old magic he still had.
I don't know if the 5'11, 220 pound Marshall will ever recover the confidence needed to play tailback in the NFL. But I know that he ran the fastest time of any running back in the NFL combine at 4.31 seconds. That wasn't just fast this year. It was the third fastest running back time ever at the combine. That's a legitimate thing that happened and seems to indicate that physically Keith Marshall's still got it. Or has started getting it back. If he continues to avoid any setbacks with his knee, and if he gets that confidence back, he could easily be the best tailback taken on the third day of the draft.
Like teammate Malcolm Mitchell, taken earlier in the day by the Patriots, Marshall is a calculated risk who could pay off big. Other than his surgically repaired knee Marshall has been healthy, and that knee kept him from absorbing a lot of punishing carries in college. He's a big sturdy back with great hands, and a high character guy who should be an asset in the locker room. Everything about Keith Marshall says first day NFL pick except that damn knee. If it gets out of his way, there's not a lot standing between Keith Marshall and greatness.