In 2008, most people would agree that Brandon Marshall had quite a year.
He started the 2008 regular season off with a multiple-game suspension for several incidents of off-field unbecoming conduct, a suspension which Commissioner Goodell reduced to a single game after an appeal. Earlier in the spring, he gave differing explanations of how he fell through the glass door of an entertainment center, severely injuring his right arm. But Brandon returned from his off-season escapades with a recovering arm and a changed attitude – sort of. As Jay Cutler later put it,
"Brandon will be Brandon."
Viewed realistically, that said it all.
Coming out of college, the main knocks on Marshall that dropped him to a fourth round, 22nd pick (119 overall) out of Central Florida University in 2006 were that he was too slow, had only one good season (his senior year, 2005: 13 games, 74 receptions, 1195 yards receiving and 11 TD), his competition wasn’t good enough and he was sloppy running his routes. SI.com projected him for the late 6th round, but Shanahan and Co. saw something there that urged them to take him early. He was a state champion in the high school triple jump, and a letterman in football, basketball and track, who in college became the MVP of the 2005 Hawaii Bowl; with playing time at wide receiver, safety and special teams on the college squad, there was just something about this player. Shanahan reached for several players, but this time, Mike and Co. were right.
At 6'4.5 and 230 lb, Marshall is a load at WR. During his first Pro Bowl appearance, Marshall's size dominated the conversation more than his public proposal and engagement did.
"Marshall, I'm looking up at him, and I'm a tight end," said Kansas City's star TE, Tony Gonzalez. "He's huge."
Peyton Manning was equally complimentary. "If you can't hit him in stride, something's wrong with you," Manning said. "He's a big ol' target. He's special."
Marshall possesses long legs with strong muscles, wide shoulders and narrow hips and carries little body fat. In addition to his great size, Marshall has huge hands that should aid him when fighting for the ball. His overall numbers suggest that they often do, as do the long, strong legs that pound out post-catch yardage. In the modern game, Marshall is a prototypical receiver.
His psychology is a different question. Although Marshall graduated from Central Florida University as a senior, it was only his last year in college that he really began to come on. This is also one reason that he dropped down the draft board. What it may show is that Brandon is a late bloomer. He has an almost desperate need to be the center of attention, and at times this has hurt the Broncos. He and Jay Cutler have a close relationship, but the Broncos have struggled at times when Brandon is the recipient of too many throws, as it makes defending their high-powered attack predictable and an easier task. Marshall became visibly upset on the field in 2008 when Cutler stopped throwing to him. However, he will block for other receivers or RBs and seems to have no ego about supporting the running game.
Marshall's attempted ‘glove tribute' during the November 6th game in Cleveland is only one amongst a list of antics that will, undoubtedly, bring up the importance of team when Josh McD and Mike McCoy take the helm of the offense this year. He also needs to end his off-field problems, for which he has received counseling. It would be unfortunate to let those issues overshadow his tremendous level of skill. As a professional receiver he is still very young: it shows, but from another viewpoint it also shows his incredible potential.
In the past two years since becoming a starter, Brandon has amassed a total of 206 catches for 2590 yards. While this year is his first Pro Bowl, Marshall and Cutler will become annual fixtures at that event if their production continues at this pace. He has started all 31 games in which he has played during that time, missing 1 game due to his suspension.
Marshall wasn't at the Pro Bowl because of his size, so much as because of his production. On 104 catches (breaking 100 for the 2nd straight season), Marshall notched 1,265 yards and a solid 12.2 yards per catch during the 2008 season. He attained those numbers in part because of his great frame, natural athleticism and equally great drive - to Brandon, catching the ball is only half of the fun.
"You always hear about Anquan (Boldin) being a tough guy to bring down," said Nnamdi Asomugha, the division rival raider's top cornerback. "But in my mind, I think Brandon's the toughest guy to bring down, one-on-one."
Never having been accused of shyness, Brandon would probably agree. When the Broncos RBs began to fall like sheaves of wheat at harvest, Cutler had a partial solution. He threw the ball to Marshall and had him run for the yards needed. Of the 2,590 yards receiving Marshall achieved over the past two years, 1,025 have been yards after the catch (39.6%). It earned him the sobriquet "The Beast".
Brandon has been troubled by a series of injuries since being drafted by the Broncos. In 2006 he suffered a posterior cruciate ligament tear during preseason. As has been his pattern however, he healed quickly and returned a few weeks later to play 15 of the 16 regular-season games, starting one, and scoring his lone TD for the season on a Sunday Night Football game against Seattle; the game was Cutler's first. Marshall broke and spun away from three tackles on his way to a career-high 71-yard touchdown that was the second longest rookie-to-rookie pass play in Broncos history.
2007 brought more preseason injuries - a groin strain that kept him out of activities in May and June and a sprained quadriceps femoris that kept him out of minicamp until a frustrated Shanahan ordered him to participate for the last few days. From that time on, he was a starter. During the 2007 season, Marshall posted team and career highs in receptions (102), receiving yards (1,325) and receiving touchdowns (7).
But in the off-season of 2008, Marshall severely injured his right arm during an incident for which he gave multiple and conflicting explanations. He suffered damage to the muscles, tendons, nerves, a ligament and the blood vessels in the forearm. The damage was repaired and he returned ahead of schedule to camp, but he stated late in the season that he was still experiencing some numbness at times. That would be normal, and is consistent with what the Broncos have made public - the nerves will heal more in the next year and should reach full recovery late this year, if those reports are accurate.
At the end of 2008, Brandon revealed that a hip issue had been bothering him for the last several games. It reduced his ability to cut and to run after the catch. In hindsight, it made a change in his production understandable. The fact that he didn't mention it or use it as an excuse shows a different side of Brandon.
There is a pattern above. It seems clear that Marshall has been less than careful during his off-season in terms of his conditioning. He has become injured during the off-season in all three of his professional years. With Royal running the off-season program for the receivers this year (along with Cutler), hopefully this will be at an end. However, when considered in light of his behavioral problems, it is possible that Marshall is having substantial issues with personal responsibility as far as his training, and he should consider working under a highly reputable trainer. We can hope that his counseling has addressed his issues of needing instruction in weak areas and taking steps to rectify that. So far, he is young (physically and emotionally), he heals very quickly, obviously enjoys working hard and has been highly productive during the regular season. This outcome cannot be overshadowed by his various other issues.
It's reasonable that in his position as a receiver he will take multiple blows to the legs and body and that some of these will result in injury. His history-to-date bears this out - leg, knee, groin and hip, as well as the arm incident. He appears to be a fast natural healer and shows a substantial willingness to play with a certain level of pain, which is much to his credit. He has been taking a lot of personal responsibility for errors on and off the field and is clearly making an attempt to clean up his life, both personally and professionally. We can also hope that his impending marriage settles him down to some degree.
Versatility and skills
Marshall can leg it on a fly route or across the middle. He's nearly fearless in his confidence as a receiver. However, his willingness on routes has not always translated into accuracy in route-running - Marshall and Cutler have been on different pages several times, resulting in interceptions for which Marshall was quick to take responsibility.
Marshall is not the fastest player on the field, and some criticisms have resulted from this. This is sometimes unreasonable - he has adequate speed, uses it well, fights for the ball and is a brutal runner after the catch. Given his records, awards and production, it's clear that overall he's using his skills well. He has also stated that while at his first Pro Bowl he is studying and learning from the route running of Wes Welker; he could hardly choose a better role model. I think that this shows an important facet of his game - despite the acclaim, Marshall knows that he is still young, and is still working on learning his craft.
At times it has been said that Marshall ‘disappears' against better CB's. That wasn't as much of an issue this year, although it did happen at times and it will bear watching.
Perhaps a bigger issue has seemed to be his ball custody. Cutler's receivers had the second-most drops of any team in football (32), and Marshall accounted for 12 of them (Tony Scheffler followed with 5, while Eddie Royal had 3). This is unacceptable. There were several factors - Cutler throws a very hard ball, the ball sails high on him at times, his two top receivers are still very young (Marshall and Royal, with Scheffler a close fourth) and the Broncos threw for more yards than any team, save two. However, Marshall also had 3 fumbles; he is one of only two of the top 25 receivers to have more than 2 (Randy Moss had 3 at #15). Marshall also was 2nd in the NFL in the dubious category of Passes not Caught with 77. To keep this in perspective though, he led the league in Passes Targeted at 181.
One area where Marshall deserves high credit is his run-blocking and his blocking for a different receiver after a completed pass. In the Shanahan offense, the responsibilities for the WR to block for the runner reached a high level. Marshall has shown a complete willingness to engage, uses his hands surprisingly well and gains leverage with his (usually) superior size. He also has a mean streak. Brandon Flowers (CB, KC) once said,
"Brandon Marshall is a defensive lineman playing wide receiver. He wants to inflict punishment on you."
It's worth noting that due to injuries in UCF's defensive backfield, Marshall played safety for seven games in 2004 and also played on special teams. At the end of that year, he led the entire team in tackles with 51.
Brandon led the league in 2007 in yards after the catch (YAC). This year, he added 439 more. When it comes to running with the ball, few receivers are even in his league.
To have an understanding of his quality of play and what he means to the Broncos, you have to list his awards and records after he has started for only 2 years in the NFL.
- He already holds the record for most receptions over a five-game span in NFL history (55).
- He is the only player in NFL history to have at least 10 receptions in four out of five consecutive games.
- He is tied for the second-most catches in an NFL game with Tom Fears at 18 (the record is 20 by Terrell Owens).
- He caught 102 passes in 2007, becoming only the third second-year player in NFL history to have at least 100 receptions in a season (joining Isaac Bruce and Larry Fitzgerald).
- He is the ninth player in NFL history to have at least 100 catches in back-to-back seasons (2007 and 2008), and the second Bronco to do so (Rod Smith was the first).
- 2008 Pro Bowl Selection
- Week 2 2008 AFC Offensive Player of the Week
Brandon Marshall is the top receiver on the Broncos, one of the finest in the league and one of three truly exceptional WRs on the team. This group of Brandon Stokley, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal (plus TE Tony Scheffler) may be the best receiving corps that the Broncos have ever had - barring major injury, they are and will be one of the best in the league. They are ushering in a new era in Broncos football - one in which the running game is important but often secondary to the pass. If the Broncos can field a decent defense and a consistent running game to go along with their aerial attack, they have the opportunity to be a consistent, perennial playoff contender.
While there are still weaknesses to his game (and in his personal life), he continues to identify and work on them. The scheduling of off-season practice among Cutler and his receivers, which Marshall started, indicates a desire to grow professionally and move from being one of the best of the best. It's a high mark to reach, and it's to Brandon's credit that he is putting in the hours necessary to achieve it.
Marshall is also heavily involved in charity work and in giving back to the community. Given the changes in him personally as well as his professional consistency over the past two years, the Broncos are very fortunate to have this kind of talent. Considering the improvement of the draft over the past three years, they are also fortunate to have the Goodman team working on finding the best talent in the mid-to-late rounds - and Brandon Marshall is a shining example of that.