2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Terrace Marshall Jr. (Fantasy Football)

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When it comes to player evaluation, there are inherent biases and blindspots we bring to the table. We can pick and choose what we want to see and what narrative we want to write. It’s what psychologists called “motivated perception”.

The paradigm becomes even more blurred when we are trying to separate our evaluations of players on the field… at the same exact time.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve had the privilege of watching LSU wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase (whose Rookie Profile I recently published) rewrite the record books riding shotgun with Heisman trophy-winning QB Joe Burrow. But if you squint your eyes long enough, you can see there’s another guy along for the ride; let’s say he’s in the sidecar of this LSU passing attack… because those things are awesome.

Terrace Marshall Jr. (not Terrance people!) should be celebrated along with the likes of other recent LSU star receivers although he somehow has gotten lost in the shuffle. Let’s look at the overshadowed LSU prospect’s college production profile, his athletic measurables, and spend the majority of the time analyzing what shows up on film. At the end, I’ll give my thoughts on his place in rookie drafts and some comparables in the NFL.

Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2021 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.

Production Profile
Class Games Receptions Yards Yards Per Reception TDs
2018 Freshman 9 12 192 16 0
2019 Sophomore 12 46 671 14.6 13
2020 Junior 7 48 731 15.2 10
Career 28 106 1594 15.0 23

We need to recalibrate our outlook for Marshall as he technically “broke out” in his sophomore season at age 19.2, which puts him in the 85th percentile. A player’s breakout season in college is classified as when a WR first achieves a 20+ percent dominator rating. It’s wild that his breakout season was with Jefferson and Chase also on the team but 2019 was a magical year with Joe Burrow at the helm. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any team’s WR3 having a “breakout season” as a sophomore. Marshall missed three games that year (Utah State, Florida, and Mississippi State) or he would’ve had an even bigger stat line with Burrow.

After playing the first seven games of 2020, Marshall opted out of the rest of the shortened year as the writing was on the wall that LSU had a lost season. As I’ll detail below, starting QB Myles Brennan went down with an injury early and the Tigers deployed a combination of freshman QBs which nosedived a lot of the production in the passing game. Marshall’s full-season pace would’ve ended with a much sexier 82/1253/17 line in 12 games. At one point, he tied the LSU school record set by Dwayne Bowe and Jarvis Landry with a touchdown in seven consecutive games. He posted a 92nd percentile dominator rating (46.5 percent) if you look at his junior season on a per-game basis.

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Measurables
Height Weight 40-yard dash (HS) 20-yard Shuttle (HS) 247 Sports
6’4 200 lbs 4.53 4.33 5-star Recruit

In terms of recent comparables, the names that show up are Denzel Mims, Josh Malone, Jehu Chesson, Josh Doctson, and DeVante Parker. Ok, so a couple of those names are out of the league. Mims was a combine beast and way faster (4.38) than almost anyone his size; honestly, Parker is a bit of a stretch. But we’re dealing with a lengthy wideout with above-average speed for his size. A reminder that the speed metrics we have to date are from high school. As of this publishing, we do not have a firm date for LSU’s pro day as the NFL combine was canceled due to the pandemic.

This may be a bit of a throwback but former Vikings and Seahawks WR Sidney Rice is the closest statistical measurable I found. Rice, if you remember, was a solid NFL wideout. That isn’t a knock on him as Rice was a Pro Bowler and helped bridge Russell Wilson‘s rookie season in 2012. But he was utilized more as a downfield threat while Marshall’s film shows a more diversified skill set, especially in the slot. Fellow prospect Rondale Moore and Marshall are the youngest (20.7 years of age) wide receivers in this 2021 class. He can add some weight and end up closer to 205-208 pounds.

What’s On Tape

My method for watching film is simple: get out a pen and pad of paper. Watch each game in its entirety and each target taking note of the down and distance and simply write down what I see. For a WR, I focus on route-running, aDOT, footwork, contested catches, how they fare against press coverage, and what type of separation they create. For Marshall, I took seven of his games, three from 2019 and four from 2020.

Games viewed: Georgia (2019), Oklahoma (2019), Clemson (2019), Mississippi State (2020), Missouri (2020), Auburn (2020), Texas A&M (2020)

1. He progressed towards being the big slot guy in 2020.

With his size, you’d think Marshall would operate outside the majority of the time. In 2019, this is where he ended up with Chase and Jefferson commanding a ton of volume, and rightfully so. But he wasn’t “stuck outside” by the coaching staff for a lack of route running acumen. For being a tall guy, I actually found him smoother on his breaks than Chase, who could win with acceleration and toughness more than precision. In 2020, Marshall essentially replaced the Jefferson role in the offense as a big slot receiver. Per PFF, here is Marshall’s slot performance over his last two years:

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Year % Slot Snaps Target % in Slot Slot TDs
2019 34.8 17.0 3
2020 82.1 25.7 8

Why do I point this out first? Because lazy analysis would be to look at Marshall’s size and some of his jump ball TDs and copy and paste a comparable of former LSU bean-pole, D.J. Chark Jr. Yes, they do have some similar traits but the utilization looks completely opposite. While it was a much different offense at the time, Chark lined up just 27.4 percent of the time in the slot his final year at LSU. That has translated to the NFL where Chark has been outside more than 75 percent of the time. As a route runner, Marshall wasn’t asked to simply run down the field and throw up his hands. The slant and out were routinely part of his repertoire. The placement of his feet and the use of his hands to gain separation were solid.

Here’s a touchdown late against Texas A&M (lined up outside) in a game where I counted at least four targets that were uncatchable from LSU backup QBs. It ended up being the final catch of his college career but he lined up on 55(!) of his 72 offensive snaps in the slot. In other words, he was predominantly a big slot receiver, NOT an X-receiver/split-end receiver as I’ve seen thrown around on social media and various scouting profiles.

2. He had a case of the dropsies.

You could watch Marshall’s tape and see a few highlight-reel plays and then a couple of drops and completely write him off. There’s another camp known as team “drops don’t matter”. Marshall’s 12.7 percent drop rate in 2020 ranked 5th worst in the SEC. But if we turn the clock back to 2019 his hyped teammates (Chase and Jefferson) and 1st round draft picks both paced the team in drop rate ahead of Marshall’s mere two drops. As I mentioned earlier, we can be a bit selective in what we want to see and emphasize in prospect evaluation. Heck let’s compare these three intertwined LSU WRs on the basis of production and drops:

Justin Jefferson Ja’Marr Chase Terrace Marshall Jr.
Games Played 30 24 28
Total Targets 220 157 155
Receptions 165 107 106
TDs 24 23 23
Total Drops 13 9 11
% of Targets Deemed “Uncatchable” 19.1% 26.1% 24.5%
True Catch Rate 92.7% 92.2% 90.6%
True Drop Rate 7.3% 7.8% 9.4%

I recently tweeted out a blind comparison of these three LSU WRs by removing their names and asking if there was a major difference in their production. You be the judge.

Most of Marshall’s drops were from a lack of concentration and honestly issues that I find correctable. Is it a knock against him? Sure. My early comp for Marshall was A.J. Green minus the sticky mitts. In other words, we have a tall wide receiver who is more of a strider than a burner with the ability to get open although I’d dock him in this category. But when we compare with other LSU wideouts, I’m not completely turned off.

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3. He has the length to continue scoring TDs.

For being 6’4, he has surprising straight-line speed. This one-handed TD against Mississippi State got a lot of the headlines as he’s honestly being tackled as the ball comes in. But earlier in the game, he caught another TD down the middle of the field where QB Myles Brennan knew his big wideout could blot out the defender with his frame.

Usually, tall receivers get pinned as “red-zone dominators” but Marshall uses his length in situations not just near the goal-line. Turn on his film against Missouri where he annihilated their secondary again and again. The stat line (11/235/3) almost feels a bit underwhelming you consider all of the 1st downs in key spots including a catch taking LSU down to the one-yard line before they were stuffed on four tries to lose the game. He put the team on his back in that game. 23 touchdowns in 28 games are telling you something and it needs to be a positive in his direction because he kept up the pace in the SEC the next year even without Burrow.

What’s NOT On Tape

This is part of the process I love in evaluating players. We usually see what we want to see. But ask yourself the question: what didn’t show up on film?

1. He’s endured a lot of change over the last few years.

In 2019, Marshall had a Heisman trophy-winning QB throwing him the rock. in 2020, through injuries and inconsistency, he had three different QBs including two freshmen. I wanted to point this out because an NFL team will give him some stability and opportunity to be focused on his role with hopefully a stable NFL QB.

If you were just boxscore watching, you’d say Marshall was completely shutdown against Auburn as he went 4/28/0 in easily his worst game of the 2020 season. But watch the entire game people! QB Myles Brennan (who was 3rd in the nation in passing yards per game at the time) was hurt and the Tigers turned to freshman TJ Finley, who was horrendous. Marshall did have two drops on the opening drive but Finley also overthrew him for an almost pick-six and committed a fumble-six later on. The QB play was baddddd. Marshall saw four targets in the first five minutes as it was clear the team needed him in a big way.

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I mentioned in my Ja’Marr Chase rookie profile that Auburn likes to play physical at the line and force receivers to beat bump-and-run coverage. Marshall didn’t have trouble shedding the contact but ended up with eight targets on the night and only four catches although two targets were uncatchable. But the story of that game was the atrocious QB play as 3rd stringer Max Johnson was called in as Auburn went up 35-3. Marshall didn’t even really play in the 4th quarter. 

2. Contested catches being contested.

The 50/50 balls that were won in college with consistency might bounce the other way in the pros. Recent comps of big-bodied specialists haven’t always translated in the NFL. Recently, there’s been a category of 6’4+ wideout prospects like Myles Boykin and Bryan Edwards who are so big but fail to create real separation from their defenders. Marshall isn’t nearly as thick as those guys and shouldn’t be pegged only as a deep threat if you watch his film. But in the NFL, plays like this one in the National Championship might not afford you the opportunity to go one-on-one with a slot corner. You might have help over the top. I found very few of these jump balls where there was real competition once the ball was in the air.

2021 Fantasy Football Outlook

If Marshall attended a different school, we might be having a different conversation on a number of levels. Was he a product of Joe Burrow? Would he have shined as the alpha in another spot? Regardless, I see the skillset and size that could make him a solid WR2 in the NFL. I’m sold on him being a top-5 wide receiver in this class with room to grow into his big boy body as he’s yet to turn 21. It will depend on a team’s fit but Marshall is a borderline 1st round pick. If a team like Baltimore needs some length and diversity in their wide receiver group, he seems like a fine selection at 27th overall. I could also see him being enticing for Kansas City at pick 31.

In rookie drafts, I like Marshall’s prospects as a back of the 1st round/early 2nd pick. The dream scenario (which I personally was able to do in our first rookie mock draft of the Dynasty Pass) was to snag Najee Harris at the 1.01 and swing back around to grab Marshall at the 2.01. He’s a flier at best in redraft but if he does land on a high octane offense like Kansas City, you could find some Year One production ala Tee Higgins or Chase Claypool.

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