There’s a memory of Gabe Marks that’s been burned into my brain for almost five years. It has nothing to do with a game, and in a vacuum it’s just a touchdown in an early fall practice. But it explains a lot about what you’ll get from him.
Marks, in just a simple skeleton drill early in fall camp his freshman year, was talking. He was talking a lot, in fact. It was like he was trying to break defenders in practice.
And then Marks blew by a corner, reaching out and snaring a pass in stride and gliding into the end zone. He held the ball up in the air, jogging into the end zone, looking straight at the media watching practice.
“There it is! That’s what y’all want,” he screamed, playing it up. It was a scene that would play out, both in practice and on Saturdays, time and again for five years.
“If a team comes in and measures him and weighs him and times him, they’re not gonna get the true essence of what Gabe is. Because what Gabe is, is about doing whatever it takes, and fighting you until the end of the fight to prove that he will win the fight.” — Angelo Gasca, Marks’ high school coach
Gabe Marks went undrafted this year, despite lighting up the Pac-12 and rewriting record books for four seasons. He produced, and he embarrassed a lot of defenders along the way.
The reason why he went undrafted is obvious, but that doesn’t make it good. Marks is small for his position and won’t blow you away on a stopwatch. And the NFL loves itself some measurables.
He also plays in the Air Raid, a system that maybe causes some smart people to overthink some simple things. The stats are inflated because of how much the system relies on passing, yes, but that still doesn’t tell the Gabe Marks story.
I learned early not to underestimate Marks. He was small, and I figured he’d slide inside to the slot. It was never going to happen, though: He’s spent his entire career outside, rarely moving around and playing a role largely occupied by bigger, stronger receivers.
I’m not sure he actually knows his size, or even cares, though. There’s a signature, a stamp, that he’s left a few times that illustrates the mentality. It goes something like this:
Marks runs a go and gets on the outside hip of the corner. He stops, turns, and catches a ball thrown (and this is the technical term in the offense) at his ass. But instead of falling out of bounds, or stepping out, he looks upfield, just about as the corner is flipping their hips to recover and square up.
By then it’s too late.
Maybe it means some big thing about his toughness and ability. Or maybe it’s just fun to watch.
There’s something about Gabe Marks inside the 10-yard-line, too. Everyone knows what’s coming, lined up outside one-on-one. The throw-it-up fade is meant for the tall guys — Calvin Johnson is one of my favorite recent examples, a man who terrified defensive coordinators so much that he once lined up against two corners on the goalline. That hasn’t stopped Marks though.
In his career at Washington State, I’ve seen Gabe make every kind of catch on a fade. The tip-toe at the back pylon; over-the-shoulder falling out of bounds; the easy, lonely high-point after shaking a defender at the line; and, well, just going up and getting it.
It’s these one on ones that put him in his element. He wants to fight you, to beat you, and to tell you you’re trash in the process.
Sometimes things just break down. They don’t work, there’s nowhere to go, and a quarterback needs an out. It’s a check down in some offenses, but not this one.
You can find Marks on Twitter at @throwitupto9. That’s relevant here, because it’s both a demand and a great strategy. When in doubt, when it’s going wrong, go ahead and throw it up there. See what happens...
Especially late in a game...
It was 2 a.m. in DC and my neighbors learned his name that night.
Gabe Marks isn’t numbers on a stopwatch or measurements. He’s not a system receiver, either. These are all simple ways to rationalize his high stats and downplay his talent.
But it’s there, and I’ve watched it for four years. Every time something was put in his way, he’d work harder. He took a redshirt in 2014 and nearly died because of a pelvic infection. He came back stronger, better, and terrorized defenses the next season. Putting a corner in his way alone was never a good idea either.
He’s been too small, too slow, and too underestimated before, and he’s used that as motivation. It shows on the field, where he’s always playing with a chip on his shoulder, taking every play as a chance to not just beat the person across from him, but embarrass them.
You can bet against Gabe Marks if you want. But don’t be surprised when the Gabe Marks Revenge Tour gets rolling.