Takeaways from the Tape
Uses Hop-Step to Create a Two-Way Go
When it comes to illustrating the hop-step a picture really is worth a thousand words. Look for the two little skips that Marshall uses to set up his cut (stacked in slot, top of screen).
These hop-steps put the CB in a bind—Marshall could hit the ground and break inside or outside. With both options in play, the CB pauses his backpedal and becomes flat-footed as he waits for the cut. This is the appeal of the hop step; Marshall has effectively won the route the moment that the CB recognizes the two-way go and sits back on his heels.
Setting up these little two-way goes is second nature to Marshall, and the technique shows up all over his tape. It's no doubt easiest to do from the slot, as in the above play, where there's lots of space to work with both inside and outside. But Marshall has success with the same move from outside alignments as well (outside WR, top of screen).
Marshall's use of (and success with) the hop-step is especially interesting because WRs are typically coached to bring their center of gravity down as they head into a break—chop the feet, sink the hips, make the cut. In contrast, the hop-step raises a player's center of gravity, as this picture illustrates.
Terrace Marshall Setting Up a Cut with a Hop-Step
While no one disputes that skipping into cuts is an effective way to create a two-way go, it's usually discouraged because you become vulnerable to physical defensive play. It's easier to push someone around when they raise their center of gravity during a hop-step.
But players like Keenan Allen and Davante Adams have shown that hop-steps have a place in the NFL. And perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Marshall's former teammate Justin Jefferson uses this same technique a ton. My biggest question about Jefferson last year was whether he could have success skipping into his routes in the same way at the next level. He's answered that question with a resounding "yes"—which makes me feel better about hop-steps being a central part of Marshall's game. (The route at 0:11, from the slot, is a nice example of Jefferson's hop-step).
Excellent Foot Speed and Agility
Marshall has really quick feet. It's part of what allows those hop-steps to be so effective. This provides Marshall with excellent agility for a player of his size. Even at 6' 3", he has the ability to run hard-angle routes with sharp breaks (stacked on left side of the formation).
And his cuts are sharp and explosive:
In short, his quickness and change of direction skills are NFL caliber.
Comes Back to the Ball at the Catch Point
If you rewatch the second clip in this article—a TD-scoring post against Vanderbilt—you will notice Marshall flattens the top of the route to attack the ball. It's admittedly very subtle, but Marshall reshapes routes in this sort of way frequently enough to suggest that it's a feature of his game.
Here's another example, in which Marshall wins on a slant against a CB that's playing with inside leverage specifically to take away that route. He's able to make the reception in part because he runs the route more like a square in than a slant, effectively breaking the pattern off to flatten his angle and maximize space from the defender (outside WR, bottom of the screen).
In both these examples Marshall flattens his route to avoid drifting upfield into coverage. It's a useful movement pattern that shows up fairly frequently in his tape. But the sample size is small, and whether it is actually a consistent feature of his game remains to be seen.
Does Not Use His Head or Eyes to Sell Routes
Marshall has a nice blend of agility, speed, and strength, and has a good feel for creating two-way goes. These things alone make him an above-average separator. But one element that's missing from his game—and that is present in all the best route runners'—is the use of his head and eyes to sell routes. Adding some head fakes (or even just some misdirection with his eyes) would seriously elevate Marshall's ability to separate.
Flashes Ability to Dominate at the Catch Point
At 6' 3" Marshall has the frame to dominate on contested catches, and he has made plays in this area that demonstrate high-level ability. He is a good leaper and is capable of making plays in the air:
He can be extremely physical at the catch point (outside WR, top of the screen):
He can create late separation in the moment before the ball arrives (on hashmarks, top of the screen):
And can make impressive plays even when a defender is draped all over him:
That being said, Marshall is not amazing as a pure catcher of the football. He occasionally had concentration drops, double-caught the ball, and failed to bring in passes that hit him in the hands. Of course, catching every pass that hits a player's hands is an unfairly high standard, and I'm not overly concerned about his hands. But Marshall had enough drops on tape to label his college performance in this area "inconsistent".
Occasionally Gets Pushed Around as a Run Blocker
Marshall will sometimes get bullied by smaller defenders that he's attempting to block. Here are two examples from his 2020 game against Mississippi St. On the first play he gets lit up by a crashing safety (top of the screen).
And on this second play a CB throws him out of the way and makes the tackle, shutting down a WR bubble screen (slot outside hashmarks, bottom of the screen).
This sort of play is the exception, not the rule, so I hesitate to draw any major conclusions about his attitude or effort level. But it's worth noting because I wouldn't expect to find these reps on Marshall's tape given his size, strength, and athleticism.
Alignment and Route Diversity
Some players present concerns about whether they'll face a steeper learning curve in the NFL because they spent most of their college career running routes from a single alignment. This is not the case for Marshall, who has significant experience lining up in the slot, on the outside, on the line of scrimmage, and off of it.
Also—as noted above—Marshall is able to run a full route tree. He has the speed to be a legitimate deep threat and the change of direction ability to run sharp-angled routes. This makes him a threat in all areas of the field.
Probable Career Outcomes
Humans can't predict the future, but with some good scouting (or statistical modeling) it's possible to sketch a fuzzy outline of probable outcomes.
The probability curve below is a freehand approximation, and is not algorithm-generated. Think of it as a prospect grade, much like other analysts assign scores such as "83 out of 100", "6.2 out of 10", "blue-chip player", or "B+".
Terrace Marshall Jr. Career Outcome Probability Distribution
Open Questions That Will Shape Marshall's Career
The answers to the following questions will determine where Marshall ultimately lands on the spectrum of possible career outcomes:
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein lists the hop-step as a negative aspect of Marshall's game. Is this a limitation, or is Marshall part of a new wave of receivers that's finding a way to make it work in the NFL?
Are the flashes of contested catch prowess indicative of Marshall's true skill level?
Will Marshall take his route-running to the next level by adding head or eye fakes?
Is Marshall truly maximizing separation by flattening his routes and working back to the QB, or are there just a few fluky routes on his tape that make it look this way?
Are the plays where Marshall gets bullied by smaller defenders indicative of low effort, intensity, or commitment to the game?
After playing as the third receiver behind teammates Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in 2019 and opting out seven games into the 2020 season, there isn't a ton of high quality Terrace Marshall film. The small sample size means that he comes with significant question marks. But even on limited snaps in a featured role, Marshall has demonstrated enough athleticism and skill to make his high ceiling evident.