When you look at the case of undrafted rookie linebacker Nico Marley, many would think his last name might help him land a spot in the NFL. In fact, the opposite may be true.
Marley, grandson of global musical icon Bob Marley, was a force at Tulane, where he set a new conference record for tackles for loss and never missed a game in four years as a starter. For many players, those stats and durability would be enough to get an invite to the NFL Combine, but that look never came for Marley.
Instead he landed with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent, and turned heads in rookie minicamp.
"As far as his name is concerned, he’s very proud of his name and all that stuff, but I’m just worried about Nico Marley as a football player, teaching him linebacker and see how we can make him fit in our scheme if we can," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday.
When it comes to football, Marley flies to the ball and has a nose for turnovers. The problem, however, is size.
Listed at 5-foot-8, 200 lbs., Marley is noticeably small for a linebacker. His father Rohan Marley, who played in college at Miami, suggested his son should play in nickel situations. His coach at Tulane regrets not playing Nico more on special teams, where his speed would make up for his size and he could show his playmaking ability.
In very limited time so far, Gruden already noticed Marley's knack for turnovers.
"I don’t put anything into [his last name], I just watched him at the rookie minicamp. We brought him in here, saw this little linebacker and the object of a defense is to try to get the ball back for the offense and he had two interceptions and recovered a fumble and had about three tackles for loss. I said, well, he deserves an opportunity, so we gave him an opportunity," the coach explained.
That opportunity will likely end before the regular season. At interior linebacker the Redskins already have Will Compton, Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Chris Carter, Martrell Spaight and rookie seventh round draft pick Josh Harvey-Clemons is listed at the position as well.
That doesn't mean to count Marley out.
If he can continue to make plays, and prove he could be a "special teams demon" like his college coach suggested, a spot could emerge. Or the practice squad might remain an option.
At 5-foot-8, Marley hardly had any options to play college football. Still, he got a scholarship offer and excelled at Tulane. It might help that the Redskins have two other players on the roster from the Green Wave in Robert Kelley and Ryan Grant. It also might not matter.
The NFL is a numbers game. Whatever happens to Marley with the Redskins, it will be because he earned it on the field, not his grandfather's celebrity.
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