Keith Marshall almost joined the most exclusive of clubs on Friday.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, the UGA tailback posted a blistering 40-yard dash time of 4.31 — nearly becoming the third tailback in combine history, along with Chris Johnson (4.24 in 2008) and Dri Archer (4.28 in 2014), to break the hallowed 4.3 mark.
(Legend has it Bo Jackson once notched a 4.12 40 in the mid-1980s, long before the combine became a must-experience event on the NFL calendar).
For what it’s worth, the NFL Network hand-timed Marshall’s first 40 attempt at 4.29 (below). Regardless, the Raleigh, N.C. native still trounced his tailback-group competition by a full tenth of a second (Tyler Ervin — second place at 4.41).
There was a time when Marshall wasn’t even a lock for a combine invite. He came to Athens as a 5-star recruit, ranked ahead of classmate Todd Gurley on various prospect sites. However, Marshall (5-foot-11, 218 pounds) would leave UGA with some question marks, in the eyes of NFL scouts, after tallying just 1,379 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns over three-plus seasons. (Note: Marshall had been granted a fifth year of college eligibility, prior to declaring for the draft.)
But it’s funny how a lightning-fast 40 time can quickly change one’s long-term perception …
That's what Keith Marshall (@FootballUGA) just brought.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 26, 2016
Marshall’s 40 time — while generating a top-end speed of 24.4 mph (hat tip to the NFL Network) — now forces the pro scouts, coaches and front-office personnel to put a positive spin on the kid’s so-called “knocks” from college:
Only 1,379 rushing yards for a career?
As a freshman, before the injuries kicked in, Marshall averaged 4.6 rushing yards per carry nine times.
Only 253 rushing attempts in college?
As a result, the 22-year old speedster should be markedly fresh for the pros.
Only 24 receptions at UGA?
OK, but he also averaged 9.4 yards per catch, suggesting that Marshall could transition into a quality third-down back at the pro level.
Lagging behind Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb on the Dawgs’ depth chart?
This question shouldn’t even warrant a response.
Gurley (first-round pick in 2015 — St. Louis Rams) amassed 1,294 total yards and 10 TDs on just 250 rookie touches; and Chubb, entering his junior season at UGA, is a relative lock for 140 rushing yards per game, when healthy.
Prior to the combine, CBS Sports speculated that Marshall would be an undrafted free agent this spring; but that status has undoubtedly been upgraded … given the NFL’s unwavering appreciation for pure, blinding speed.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.