ATHENS, Ga. – By the time Keith Marshall was able to check his phone after running the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February, he had received around 600 text messages, many of them from long-lost friends and acquaintances, people he hadn’t heard from in years.
So if Marshall’s goal for the pre-draft process was to reintroduce himself to the football world after an injury-plagued college career at the University of Georgia, that 4.31-second 40-yard dash certainly worked.
“A lot of people did forget about me, I feel like. That’s how the game is,” Marshall said.
Now Marshall is trying to figure out how to parlay that fast 40 into an NFL job when the draft is held this weekend.
He had one stellar year at Georgia as a freshman in 2012, when he split carries with his roommate, Todd Gurley, but lost a season and a half to a torn ACL. By the time he fully returned to health for last season, he had slipped to third on the Bulldogs’ depth chart.
As he’s gone through the draft process, from the combine to his pro day in Athens, he’s had to not only answer for the health of his right knee, but also for his lack of college production. He had just 253 rushing attempts in college, with 117 of those coming as a freshman in 2012. (For comparison, Alabama running back Derrick Henry had 359 carries in his Heisman Trophy-winning 2015 season alone.)
“With the season that (Georgia running back) Nick (Chubb) had, I kind of figured I wouldn’t be starting, but I thought I’d get more opportunities that I did get. My real goal was though, I was healthy, I wanted to compete, contribute and show everyone I was back to the same player I was,” Marshall said. “I tell teams they’d have to talk to my coaches, I don’t make those decisions. I put myself in the best situation I could, and the biggest thing (teams) want to know is about my health.”
That part has checked out fine. Though he endured plenty of poking and pulling on his right knee during the medical examinations at the combine, he said no teams flagged him as needing a recheck in April. If anything, the combine served as a reminder of Marshall’s potential, something he flashed as a five-star high school recruit out of Raleigh, N.C., and that healthy freshman year, when he scored eight touchdowns.
Marshall, whose father, Warren, played running back for the Denver Broncos in 1987 before a knee injury ended his career, believes he can offer an NFL team pure speed, but also a set of fresh legs. He is confident he can endure the grind of an NFL season.
As soon as Georgia’s season was over in early January, Marshall headed to South Florida to train for the combine. He shed a few pounds, and after running multiple 40-yard dashes in the low 4.2-second range on a handheld stop watch, he arrived in Indianapolis believing he had a chance to break Chris Johnson’s record of 4.24 seconds. Doing so would earn him a $50,000 purse offered by Adidas for the fastest man at the combine.
When Marshall’s chance to came to run, he flew. Though his time of 4.31 was slightly slower than he hoped to run, but it held up through the duration of the combine.
As soon as he received that large check from Adidas, Marshall put all of it into his savings account.
Marshall, who graduated in December with a degree in finance, considered investing some of that money, but he’s decided to spend the spring focused on draft prep. But with an uncertain NFL future, it was reassuring to know he had a small financial cushion. With the draft now just days away, he’s preparing himself for any scenario in which he could find himself drafted late on the second day as a best-case scenario, or not drafted at all.
“I mean, I’d love to go as high as possible, but I’m confident that once I get there, that’s when I’m going to show them. My situation in college, I feel like it set me back a little bit,” Marshall said. “I know I’m just as capable as anyone. Once you get to the league, what you did in college doesn’t matter.”
He has at least one strong advocate in the NFL in Gurley, who went 10th in last year’s draft to the Rams. The duo lived together for three years in Athens and are still in touch almost daily.
“He definitely killed it at the combine, no surprise, always been fast,” Gurley said. “Definitely a team is going to get a good player, a home-run hitter, definitely a guy that can change the game in the blink of an eye just with his speed.”