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NFL Draft Breakdown: Gabe Marks

After rewriting the WSU record books, the Cougar wide receiver looks to break through to the next level.

NCAA Football: Idaho at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe Marks came to the Palouse as the first - and until the most recent recruiting cycle, only - four-star wide receiver recruit in the Mike Leach era. Originally committed to SMU, the Venice, California product rescinded his commitment to the Dallas school and flipped to Washington State after learning of Leach’s hire. Fulfilling something of a childhood dream, Marks had the opportunity to catch passes in the vaunted Air Raid offense under one of the system’s principal architects. According to Marks, via the ESPN Pac-12 blog, “Every time [he] sat down to play his NCAA Football 08 video game there was one team he always picked -- Texas Tech. He imagined himself playing in that offense with that gunslinging coach and quarterback.”

Once in Pullman with Leach and the Air Raid, Marks put up video game numbers of his own. A quick glance at the record books shows Marks at the top of every career receiving category.

Receptions? Check. Tops in Pac-12 history too.

Receiving Yards? Yup.

Receiving TDs? Uh huh, and he leaves as second in the Pac-12 there, displacing another Californian turned Cougar in Jason Hill.

Receiving reporters’ questions and delivering fantastic responses? Ok, I made that one up. But if it was a thing, the list would be as follows:

  1. Gabe Marks
  2. THERE IS NO #2 BECAUSE GABE IS THE GREATEST AND THAT IS THE END OF THE LIST.

So how does Gabe Marks’ game, dominant at the college level, translate to the NFL? Here’s a scouting report.


Question Marks

Speed - Gabe Marks is not a burner. His 4.56s time in the forty-yard dash at the NFL combine places him in the 29th percentile for wide receivers in this draft class, and he was never known as a field-stretcher while at Wazzu. The best thing one could say about Marks is that he was fast enough. He didn’t have a great number of opportunities to outrun defenders in the open field. However, he took advantage of the few chances he did get. One example is the screen pass he took to the house against Arizona in 2015.

Marks doesn’t exactly run away from anybody - other than trailing defensive linemen - but neither does he get run down by a safety. So he’s fast enough to break a play open. At the next level, he likely will not be asked to take the top off a defense, largely because that’s not in his skill set. But he has enough quickness to do damage when he gets the chance.

Size - Considering his lack of top-end speed, Gabe is probably going to face a heavy dose of press man coverage at the next level. Defenses will not be threatened by him running past them, so they are likely to challenge him at the line. That’s harder to do against big, physical wide receivers. Unfortunately, Marks checked in to the combine at five-eleven and 189 pounds. Realistically, his “playing weight” is probably going to be closer to 180. He’s not exactly a physical specimen in that regard. The question becomes whether or not Gabe can be strong enough at the line to get off and get into the stem of his route without the jam disrupting his - and the quarterback’s - timing. He will have to provide the answer to that question very early on.

System - The knock that Air Raid quarterbacks being a product of the system in which they operate extends somewhat to wide receivers as well. While the entire argument is hot taek-y on its face, there are some Air Raid-specific aspects of wide receiver play that Marks will need to make adjustments to once he catches on to an NFL roster. Marks spent the majority of his career at the Z, putting him on the outside and exclusively on the offense’s right side. Because of his small stature and limited top end speed, he will play in the slot at the next level. So he will have to adjust to playing in the interior. It sounds like a minor adjustment, but keep in mind that WSU has both an inside receivers coach and an outside receivers coach for a reason. The techniques that the positions use have some uniqueness, and there’s a different mentality when you’re fighting through linebackers and rolled up safeties more often than cornerbacks.

He will also have to acclimate to the left side of the offense. Again, it seems simple enough, but muscle memory is a funny thing. Being able to run the same route on the other side of the field will require Gabe to retrain his body and mind to make the same steps and motions with the opposite side of his body. The reason the Air Raid doesn’t have its outside receivers mirror sides of the field is because it is like having to learn a brand new route. He’ll have to make that adjustment in the NFL.


Positive Marks

Hands - Gabe Marks is exceptionally good at catching the football, particularly in traffic and through contact.

I mean.... just..... come on.... knock it off. Also, watch all of that highlight reel if you haven’t because Gabe Marks is doing Gabe Marks things.

One of those Gabe Marks things is catching the ball over his shoulder on a fade. There may not be a receiver better at that in the entire country. It seems a simple thing, but locating the ball in your peripheral vision while looking through a facemask, over your shoulder and around your helmet while running at full tilt, with one or more defenders tugging at your hip or elbow and getting a hand up in your sightline is a skill at which not everyone excels. Gabe certainly does, and when in doubt, WSU QBs could always throw it up to 9.

Toughness - If there is one play that will, for me, exemplify all things Gabe Marks during his run at WSU and define what type of player he is, it is the following.

Fourth quarter, down by four points, make a tiptoe catch along the sideline, absorb a huge hit, hang on to the ball, score, walk back to the sideline and get ready to do it again. That is Gabe Marks. I was lucky enough to see that play in person and my respect for Gabe upon seeing it was dialed up to eleven and stayed there for the rest of his WSU career. You might be able to question his size, his speed, or his other physical measureables. You cannot question Gabe Marks’ toughness.

Nuance - Playing wide receiver can be an art as much as it is a science. Finding gaps in zone defenses, maneuvering one’s body in the air to seal off a defender, or subtly pushing off a defender the moment before one plays the ball in the air are all things that the best receivers learn to do by experience. That is especially the case when one is not the most physically gifted athlete on the field, which Marks never has been. No receiver in the history of the Pac-12 has more experience getting the ball in his hands than Gabe Marks, and he is a student of the game and an intelligent man on top of all that. He knows all the tricks of the trade and uses them to his fullest advantage.


Conclusion

Marks’ draft stock appears to have risen after a positive showing at both the NFL Combine and East-West Shrine Game. This should make it so Gabe hears his named called on the third day of the draft, likely in the sixth or seventh round. If a team fell in love with him, it would not be entirely crazy for him to go as high as the fifth round. Similarly, because of his lack of prototypical speed and size, it is possible that he goes the route of many Cougs in the last several years and signs with a team as an undrafted free agent. In many ways, that can be preferable to being drafted in the later round(s), as it allows the player to negotiate with a team that has more of a need at the position he plays.

For Marks, he will be hoping to hook up with a team that has a need for a solid possession receiver in the slot. Some potential landing spots to keep an eye on include the Chargers, Bills, Saints, and Ravens.

The 2017 NFL Draft will be held in Philadelphia, with the first round on Thursday, April 27th and subsequent rounds on the 28th and 29th. The entirety of the draft will be broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2, and NFL Network.