football Edit

Marshall's dominance not evident in traditional stats

Jonathan Marshall has been dominant in the middle of Arkansas' defensive line.
Jonathan Marshall has been dominant in the middle of Arkansas' defensive line. (Arkansas Athletics)

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FAYETTEVILLE — When you look at box scores or Arkansas’ season stats, Jonathan Marshall’s numbers don’t jump off the page. Such is life as a defensive tackle.

The fifth-year senior is seventh on the team with 26 tackles and he’s just one of 11 Razorbacks with between 0.5 and 2.5 sacks this year (1). His 5.5 tackles for loss are the most impressive figure, as they’re tied for the most on the team, but he barely cracks the SEC’s top-20 list in tackles for loss per game.

Marshall’s impact can’t be measured by traditional statistics, though. He is consistently in the opponent’s backfield and one of the most important pieces of Arkansas’ much-improved defense.

“He’s an animal down there,” safety Jalen Catalon said. “He’s causing havoc every single time a ball is snapped.”

Catalon also described Marshall, who has been considered the strongest player on the team for a few years, as a “monster” and a “distraction” for which teams must game plan.

It’s difficult to quantify just how effective the Shepherd, Texas, native has been, but analytics sites like Pro Football Focus attempt to do so by reviewing every snap of every game.

PFF has assigned Marshall a team-high 80.0 defensive grade on his 402 snaps through seven games this season, which ranks first among the 34 SEC interior defensive linemen who’ve played at least 150 snaps. That also ranks sixth among the 126 Power Five interior defensive linemen who meet that same snap threshold.

Although he has just one sack and officially has only two quarterback hurries, PFF credits him with more than a quarter of Arkansas’ total pressures this season. In fact, Marshall’s 24 pressures are the most among all FBS interior defensive linemen.

For more perspective, when Armon Watts had seven sacks in his breakout 2018 season that led to him getting drafted, he had just 25 pressures on 553 snaps in 12 games.

What doesn’t show up in the stats is how Marshall’s play goes hand-in-hand with the performance of Arkansas’ back seven - or back eight when it’s in the dime package.

“Up front, we're helping the linebackers out, so they help me out,” Marshall said. “I'm freeing them up. We're all working together so we're just playing team football. I'm relying on them and they're relying on me.”

It’s hard to know exactly how much of it should be attributed to Marshall taking on double-teams and eating up space, but Arkansas’ two starting linebackers - Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool - rank first and second in the SEC in tackles per game, averaging 12.1 and 11.8, respectively.

Take out the Texas A&M game, when he was disqualified early on for targeting, and Catalon would rank third in that category with 11.5 tackles per game.

“That makes the defense a lot easier for us to flow because he’s just blowing up the middle, so now the running back has to stop and come on a gap where we’re going to be at,” Catalon said. “I think (Marshall) definitely makes our jobs easier on the back end and at the linebacker spot, for sure.”

What makes Marshall’s season even more impressive is that he’s staying on the field more than usual for a defensive tackle - a position that usually sees heavy rotation.

He’s averaging 57.4 snaps per game and played at least 60 three times this season, including a career-high 66 against Florida. Arkansas didn’t have a single defensive lineman reach that mark last year.

Among interior defensive linemen in the SEC, Marshall has played 56 more snaps than anyone else and he’s been on the field for a conference-high 70.8 percent of the Razorbacks’ defensive snaps. Only four others have even played 65 percent of their team’s snaps.

That doesn’t even include the 84 special teams snaps - primarily on the punt coverage and field goal/PAT block units - Marshall has also played this season, which is tied for the fourth most on the team. No other SEC interior defensive lineman has played more than 51 snaps on special teams.

“His motor is second-to-none, hands down one of the best motors on the team on the D-line,” Catalon said. “For him to play that many snaps and give it 100 percent on those snaps while doing special teams, as well, that just shows you the type of person he is.”

Although he could technically return to Arkansas for a sixth year because the NCAA granted eligibility relief to all players, Marshall’s lone season as a starter could be enough to have his name called in next spring’s NFL Draft.

In fact, head coach Sam Pittman said he’s already brought him up in conversations with scouts this year.

“I’ve talked to several different guys about him,” Pittman said. “He’s played his way into a draftable player, I believe, and you’re not going to get a whole lot better kid than him if you take him on your football team.

“So absolutely. He’s had a really good year and I’m proud for him and I believe he will get looks in the NFL.”

Before he plays on Sundays, though, Marshall has three more regular-season games left with the Razorbacks and possibly the first bowl game of his career.

Kickoff against LSU is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT Saturday and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.