Among the hundreds of hopefuls in this year’s NFL Draft, Ali Marpet is unique in many ways, some of which we’ll mention. Here’s one: Unlike so many of the athletes who were shedding weight to get in peak physical shape prior to the predraft combine, Marpet was eating, and eating, then eating some more.
“I know there are some guys here who have to stay away from the desserts, but I don’t have to worry about that,” Marpet said at last month’s combine. “I’m the opposite way. I was just pounding pasta a little while ago.”
An offensive lineman who measures nearly 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 307 pounds, Marpet is still fine-tuning the body he’ll need to play high-level football. He entered college at 255 pounds, and because of the weight he loses while playing, he needs to eat as much as 9,000 calories per day to gain it back and keep it.
But because he wants football to become his job — as unlikely as that sounds, when you consider Marpet’s back story — he eats and exercises. A lot.
Marpet recently finished his playing career at tiny Hobart College, a Division 3 school in Geneva, N.Y. The New York native started at left tackle for the Statesmen, who play in the Liberty League against schools such as Springfield and WPI, and suffered their only loss last season in the NCAA Division 3 quarterfinals to Wesley.
Marpet was on the field in Milton last Sept. 20 for Hobart’s 43-13 win over Curry College, with 1,798 in attendance.
That’s a far cry from Division 1 football and Power 5 conferences, but it’s the latest example of an old NFL adage: If you’re good enough, no matter where you’re playing, they’ll find you.
Marpet won’t be the first offensive lineman taken in this year’s draft, which starts April 30. But many forecasters say he could go in the second or third round. He can play tackle, guard, or center.
“This guy is maybe one of my favorites,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock during the combine broadcast. “Everybody wants to talk about Jameis Winston and whether or not he’s going to talk [at the combine], when this kid is more of a story.”
That’s mainly because of Marpet’s school, and how rare it is for a player to make the jump from Division 3 to the NFL. It’s difficult for league personnel to grade and compare a player facing that kind of competition, so when Marpet received an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl, it allowed him to go up against quality prospects from the biggest Division 1 schools.
It also served as reassurance that Marpet belonged.
“It was important for me to go out and actually play against the best players in the country,” said Marpet, who chose Hobart over Holy Cross and Fordham (his size coming out of high school kept bigger schools away). “At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to match up. Pretty soon, I knew I would be OK. I was invited there for a reason.
“Going out and getting used to the speed — the speed was the biggest difference going from D3 to D1. I was able to handle the size, and once I had a few reps, I was fine.”
Michael Green figured Marpet would be. Green was an offensive line teammate of Marpet’s for three seasons in college, then served as Hobart’s assistant offensive line coach last year. He has seen firsthand the transformation of a 255-pound freshman to a 300-pound dominant departing senior about to make school history.
“It’s completely unique,” said Green, who is now Hobart’s offensive line coach. “It’s something we’ve never had on campus before. The only time we’ve ever had a guy play in the NFL from our college was back in the 1930s [halfback Fred King].
“We had a guy in the early 2000s [offensive lineman Alex Bell] that made it as a practice player, but we’ve never had the media exposure that Ali has gotten. It’s been a learning experience for all of us. It’s exciting.”
After holding his own at the Senior Bowl, Marpet made NFL personnel take notice with his performance at the combine. His time of 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash was second-fastest among all offensive linemen, and his 30 repetitions of lifting 225 pounds were fifth-most.
Any of the NFL talent evaluators not aware of Marpet then are aware of him now. If they had any questions about the intangibles that teams value — character, work ethic, coachability — Green has gladly filled in those gaps.
“He’s always very dedicated to making himself better, but also making the team better,” Green said. “I can imagine a lot of guys in his position — with all the media attention he’s had and the attention from the NFL — being a guy that’s above the team, just thinking about going to the next level and not really caring about the season or the other players on the team.
“He was never like that. He’s been humble the whole way through, has continued to care about his teammates. He always put the team first.
“I think he’s the kind of guy that, even if he comes in and maybe struggles a little bit, or gets faced with some adversity, he’ll compete. Whether he’s on the two-deep [depth chart] or the three-deep, or whether he’s the starter, no matter what position he’s going to be in, he’ll look to make himself better every day. Ali just has the mentality that he’s going to be successful.”
That kind of NFL dream might seem strange coming from a Division 3 player. But the food-loving lineman with the unusual name from the small school that’s never had a player drafted is ready to meet the challenge. He’s known this was a possibility since his junior year, when a scouting organization paid him a visit.
Said Marpet: “I ran the 40 for them, I took the Wonderlic [aptitude test], they measured me, and I discovered that I had the same physical tools as some of the other offensive linemen. So I said, ‘Why not me? I can play football.’ ”
Ben Volin's top offensive line prospects
More suited to play guard, given slightly undersized height and reach, but Scherff is athletic, smart, and tenacious enough to play anywhere on the line. Could have a Logan Mankins-type of immediate impact for a team picking in the top 15.
A Day 1 starter for the Hurricanes as a true freshman, Flowers is a big, powerful tackle who can handle speed rushers around the edge and play on either side. Plus, he’s only 21 years old with a lot of good football ahead of him.
Another young tackle who spent just three seasons in college, Humphries is a terrific athlete with great footwork who would excel in a zone blocking scheme. Needs to work to keep his weight up in the NFL, however.
The son of former NFL offensive lineman Todd Peat has a massive frame and can dominate in the run game. Might be better suited at right tackle because of a lack of elite quickness, but can be a Day 1 starter in the NFL.
Like Scherff, Collins is a bit undersized for tackle and probably best suited for guard, but he’s powerful, quick, and technical enough to play anywhere on the line. Four-year starter and team captain.
Fantastic athlete who played left tackle and center last year, excels in both run and pass blocking, and can start at guard or center from Day 1. Twice named the best offensive lineman in the ACC by the league’s coaches.
Tore an ACL in his bowl game, but has first-round talent and will be the worth the risk for a team willing to wait on his development. Needs to improve upper-body strength but has great mobility for a zone-blocking offense.
Powerful interior run blocker is very explosive on contact and quick enough to slide around in pass protection. Tomlinson should be a Day 1 starter for a power running team.
Four-year starter and two-year captain who has good mobility for the run game and good technical skills in pass protection. A bit undersized but should be able to start immediately at guard.
Three-year starter has great length to ward off pass rushers and excellent power in the run game. Needs to work on his footwork but could be a Day 1 starter at guard or right tackle.
Best of the rest
OT T.J. Cummings*, Pittsburgh (6-4, 307, 5.14, 2-3), G Arie Kouandjio, Alabama (6-5, 310, 5.52, 2-3), OT Jake Fisher, Oregon (6-6, 306, 5.01, 2-3), G Josue Matias, Florida State (6-5, 309, 5.52, 2-3), G Tre Jackson, Florida State (6-4, 330, 5.52, 2-3), OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma (6-5, 324, 5.21, 2-3), C Reese Dismukes, Auburn (6-3, 296, 5.31, 2-3), G/T Ali Marpet, Hobart (6-4, 307, 4.98, 2-3), C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon (6-3, 297, 5.10, 2-3).