The rare “30-30-30” guy. That is what Hobart head coach Mike Cragg said NFL scouts were calling Tampa Bay Buccaneers right guard Ali Marpet when they would visit the small campus in Geneva, New York. Marpet was not only showcasing dominant traits on film (Hobart plays on the NCAA’s Division III level), but he also posted 30 reps of 225 on the bench press, jumped 30.5 inches in the vertical jump, and had a score greater than 30 on the Wonderlic test that is administered by NFL teams.
Marpet’s on-field ability stems from his unique athletic and physical profile. At 6’4” and 307 pounds, Marpet is in the mold of the recent trend in the NFL of slightly lighter players along the offensive line, that make up for their lack of size with athleticism, explosiveness, and power.
As the spider graph above shows, Marpet ran a 4.98 40 yard dash at 307 pounds, a very impressive combination. His 7.33 three cone and 4.47 20-yard shuttle times were each good for the 2nd highest recording at the 2015 NFL Combine among offensive linemen (Jake Fisher was 1st in each of these categories).
While Marpet’s athletic and physical profile are impressive in a vacuum, they don’t necessarily translate to being a capable offensive lineman or blocker. Combine numbers for offensive linemen are a means to validate what the tape showed or as a cause to go back and double check the tape.
Raw physical ability in terms of a sprint (40-yard dash) or a jump (vertical leap) can highlight the player’s hip mobility, fast-twitch muscle fiber, proficiency in the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) among physical markers, which can help in basic movements on the field but it is not telling the evaluator about their ability to fit, sustain, and finish a block.
This is where Marpet starts to become special.
While Combine measurements like the drills or Wonderlic can speak to an offensive lineman’s upper- and lower-body explosiveness, fast-twitch muscle fiber, and cognitive ability (areas Marpet measures well in), they do not tell us how well he climbs to the 2nd level off of a Deuce block to cut off the backside linebacker, or how well he syncs up his hands with his feet on a jump set and doesn’t overset versus a head-up defensive lineman in pass protection. These traits, among other nuanced aspects of Marpet’s skill-set, will be the focus throughout this piece.
2016 Season Review
The 2016 season has been impressive for Marpet because of how refined he is in overall hand usage, use of leverage, ability to strain and use torque to sustain blocks, and mental processing in pass protection. This has lent itself to Marpet becoming a more consistent player in terms of his technique, but also a more reliable blocker in both the run and pass game.
Run-Blocking (Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Gap)
Let’s start off by taking a look at Marpet in an inside zone concept executing a drive block in the 1st quarter of a Week 9 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons:
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This is a perfect example of syncing up your hands with your feet as a run-blocker. Notice how explosive and purposeful Marpet is out of his stance. Once the drive-catch™ phase is initiated with violent intent, Marpet is able to gain leverage on Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and win the half-man relationship. This puts Marpet in a position of power by eliminating the two-way go for Jarrett, and allows him to more aptly dictate the outcome of the play.
Jarrett either needs to work to cross Marpet’s face or undercut the block in order to make a play on the ball, and he’s doing so from a disadvantageous position.
At the point of attack Marpet fires his hands centermass into Jarrett’s frame with his right (inside) hand landing underneath and inside of Jarrett’s left arm. Marpet simultaneously unlocks his hips to generate explosive power from the ground up.
Marpet’s inside hand is in perfect position to dig Jarrett out of the backside gap. Once Marpet is latched and locked on he slightly turns his body to generate torque as he continues to drive his feet, strain, and drive the defender back about 4 yards.
Overall this play demonstrates good explosive power from the ground up, mobility (hip flexion / extension), overall hand usage, hand placement, and ability to hit, lift, and drive as a run-blocker in an inside zone scheme.
When you combine a great athlete with a technically sound player who is tough and able to process information quickly you get an elite player. Marpet is on a track to get there with how comprehensive his skill-set is becoming. We already took a look at Marpet on an inside zone run, let’s look at him work on an outside zone play. This is from the 1st quarter of the Buccaneers Week 13 game against the San Diego Chargers.
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Again, Marpet gets a fantastic jump off the ball and explosively comes out of his stance. This allows him to become the aggressor and initiate first contact. Notice Marpet’s initial hand placement and grip strength to fit and sustain through contact. Marpet’s outside strike is key as this allows him to get underneath DL Corey Liuget’s shoulder pads and gain a leverage advantage.
Marpet uses his base to generate power through his hips, lats, and triceps to strain and drive, which overwhelms Liuget’s base of support. Liuget winds up tripping over right tackle Demar Dotson’s foot, but he was already beaten and off-balance.
When Marpet is unable to obtain the reach block on an outside shade he quickly processes that information and transitions into running his man down the line of scrimmage.
This ability to process information quickly, as well as the coordination to align his hips and elbows in a manner that allows power to transfer as seamlessly as it does for him is typically reserved for a player who has been coached up and has several years more experience.
Here is a good example of what marrying the hips and elbows as a blocker can do for your power:
— LBOlineDesign (@LBOlineDesign) June 6, 2016
Offensive line play requires an unnatural skill-set that must be honed through deliberate, purposeful repetition. These first two clips are a good sample of how Marpet has been working hard on refining his game.
As with most players who are ascending at the NFL level, the difference between a good, very good, and elite trait oftentimes comes down to the level of consistency at which it is displayed.
Here we have Marpet against the Oakland Raiders in Week 8 on a drive block in a traditional gap scheme blocking principle, the counter trey. Marpet’s responsibility is to block down on DT Dan Williams. The keys to watch here are Marpet’s hand placement, grip strength, ability to sustain through the point of attack, and competitive toughness.
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One of the reasons why Marpet is elevating his overall game so quickly stems from his ability to fit and sustain in the run game. Oftentimes great athletes on the OL are able to put themselves in good enough positions to fit on a defender, but sustaining that position is an entirely different story.
Inside hands / tight elbows allow Marpet to latch on and gain leverage, his grip strength and strong, sturdy base give him balance, and once Williams attempts to disengage his base becomes compromised. Marpet takes full advantage by using leverage and momentum against his opponent for the strong finish.
2nd Level Block Compilation
It should come as no surprise that Marpet has outstanding range to the 2nd level, but the angles that he uses are what make his ability to block in space special.
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Marpet’s athleticism shines when he is asked to pull and release to the 2nd level in terms of his closing speed to gain ground. However, the angles at which he travels in space to fit and latch are what elevate his game to the next level. There are plenty of uber-athletic linemen who struggle blocking in space because they do not understand angles and leverage well enough to fit. Marpet not only pairs the athleticism and angles, but his competitive toughness once latched on plays a big part in how well he is able to finish blocks. At this point consistency is all Marpet needs in order to become a very good-to-elite blocker in space and at the 2nd level.
Here the Buccaneers are hosting the Raiders in Week 8. Marpet is quick-setting a 3 technique (rookie DT Jihad Ward) and does an outstanding job of not oversetting, instead he splits the defender in half and obtains half-man leverage. His hands and base are in good positions to counter the T-T (tackle-tackle) stunt, and Marpet fluidly passes down Ward while keying the looping DT Denico Autry.
Marpet’s base of support (feet) from snap-to-finish facilitates smooth reactionary quickness, and his mental processing allows successful handling of the twist game.
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We stay with the same Week 8 matchup vs. Oakland here as Marpet again executes a quick set against the same 3 technique (Jihad Ward).
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The quick (jump) set is one of the riskier techniques an offensive lineman can use in pass protection because of how aggressive it is. The results are typically very good (the battle ends quickly) or very bad (the blocker whiffs and/or the DL executes a quick swim or rip and beats the blocker clean).
When studying an interior lineman’s pass protection, you want to pay close attention to how they are coming out of their stance, and if they are able to obtain / maintain the half-man relationship. Doing so in tight quarters along the interior of the line is especially difficult because there is less room to operate the further you move inside. All that separate a success or fail on a jump set is a matter of inches.
Not only is Marpet very explosive and twitchy, (giving him an advantage over most interior lineman), but he is also very deliberate and purposeful in his drive-catch phase which is the lifeblood of a lineman’s success on each snap. When you start explosive and purposeful, your chances of “hitting your spot” with proper weight distribution and base of support dramatically increases.
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At the snap Marpet quickly and smoothly comes out of his stance, creates space, and obtains a half-man relationship with the defender. Right away Easley’s options are limited. The two-way go to the inside is gone, so Easley must work to break free outside of Marpet’s frame. Due to very good timing and placement of the strike Marpet is able to latch and gain control. His grip strength again comes through, which is a by-product of his strong base. There is very little wasted movement here by Marpet, and Easley gets shut down.
Marpet’s skill as a run-blocker and a pass-blocker are elevating themselves past a solid / average level relative to the rest of the NFL, and into the “above average” and “very good” ranges. Considering Marpet has been out of Division III football for just two years his technical proficiency is remarkable. Paired with his unique athletic profile, very good competitive toughness, and propensity for rapid development, we are likely on the cusp of a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber OG within the next year or two.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his look at the wonder that is Joe Thomas, an explanation of why Doug Free is underrated, and his piece on Kansas City Chief center Mitch Morse.
All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass