Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Path of Ali Marpet from D-III unknown to Bucs' second-round draft pick


For most fans, the story of the Bucs and Ali Marpet began around 9:10 p.m. on May 1 last year, when Tampa Bay traded up four spots into the second round to draft a little-known prospect from tiny Hobart College, a Division III school in Geneva, N.Y. • Marpet quickly went from small-school phenom to NFL starter, taking over as the Bucs' right guard, perhaps the least likely of four rookie starters who helped Tampa Bay improve from two wins to six in 2015. • The story actually starts in the fall of 2014, when Marpet first found himself on the NFL radar, and a single Bucs scout noticed the dominating offensive lineman and started making a case for why Tampa Bay should take him.

• • •

When scouts such as the Bucs' Andre Forde stopped by Hobart, Marpet was usually told he rated as a "priority free agent," meaning a player not among the 250 or so drafted each year but one signed to an NFL roster, with an outside shot at making a team. Given that, his goal wasn't even to get drafted — Hobart hadn't had an NFL player since 1937 — but just to find a way to stick with an NFL team.

"Obviously that changed," Marpet said. "A lot changed in a short amount of time."

Go to an Ohio State-Michigan game as a scout, or Florida-Florida State, and there might be two dozen NFL prospects to watch. At a Division III game, you can watch one player the whole game, studying everything he does, good and bad.

Forde gave Marpet a grade that equates to a "developmental starter," taking a stand and going to bat for him to the Bucs with a confidence that's hard to do with an unheralded player from off the beaten path.

"Andre was the first to get us on him," said Mike Biehl, the Bucs' director of college scouting. "A lot of times, when you have a smaller-school prospect, it's hard to jump on the table and say, 'This guy's going to be a great player.' That being said, give Andre props. He did that from the get-go."

The Bucs watched tape of Marpet at Hobart — where he often played to crowds of fewer than 1,000 — and could only tell so much with NFL relevance.

"It raised my antenna, but you've got 500 guys you're looking at," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said of the wide net cast early in the draft process. "You could watch Hobart tape, and he's just (dominating) everywhere. But he's playing low-level comp. He passed the test at the Senior Bowl."

• • •

Marpet stopped being any kind of NFL secret at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he lined up against top prospects from major programs and stood out, erasing concerns that he had only shined against lesser competition.

"He more than held his own. We walked away, collectively, thinking this guy might have the most talent out of all the guards there," Licht said.

Licht gives Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage an assist for recognizing Marpet and getting him to Mobile, joking that he has an open invitation to stay in his suite at any Bucs home game.

"Ali took the opportunity and just ran with it," said Savage, a former GM who likes spotting small-school talents. "He really capitalized on it and built some momentum for him. It was an awesome story from where he started to where he ended up. He had an amazing ascent."

Marpet next helped himself at the NFL combine, where he was the only D-III player invited. His 40-yard time of 4.98 seconds was the fastest of any offensive lineman; quarterback Jameis Winston, 76 pounds lighter, ran a 4.97. Marpet, always competitive, had hoped to run a 4.90.

"I was actually disappointed with myself, even though I was the fastest offensive lineman," he said.

Licht wasn't disappointed. He saw Marpet at the combine and was impressed enough that he sent a text message to the Glazers, who own the Bucs: "Got our favorite guy," he wrote. "Ali Marpet."

Marpet, for all the buzz surrounding him, would check online mock drafts for his name. He can remember one that went deep enough, projecting him to go in the fifth round.

"I was like, 'This would be insane. Imagine if I was a fifth-rounder,' " he recalled. "One random website, I don't even remember which one, but I was like, 'Oh, this is incredible.' "

The day before the draft, asked when he thought he'd be picked, he remembers telling the NFL Network the fourth round.

"Even then, when I said that, I was trying to (sound) confident in my abilities," he said. "I didn't even think that. Hey, if I'm a fifth- or sixth-round pick, I'll be okay."

Marpet, who visited One Buc Place before the draft, was widely regarded as a third-day draft pick — as high as the fourth round — but not likely anything more.

"If somebody really gets excited, third round," former NFL executive Charley Casserly said on the NFL Network.

• • •

The draft is split over three days, and while Marpet had a group of about 20 friends and relatives at his house that Friday night for the second and third round, he really didn't expect to be drafted until the next day.

As the second round wound down, the Bucs had the first pick of the third, and Marpet was close enough that Licht decided to make a move to ensure he'd get his man. He made a trade with the Colts, trading up from No. 65 to 61 — all it took was swapping fourth-round picks, sliding down from No. 109 to 128.

The phone rang at the Marpet house in New York.

"We were kind of unprepared. Like, 'What do we do?' " Marpet said. "We didn't know what to do. We just ended up hanging out at my house. We went out the next night."

Marpet remembers the call well, first talking to then-coach Lovie Smith, followed by Licht.

"Did you get a good feeling about how we felt about you when you came down?" Smith asked him. "You're going to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer."

• • •

Of the three teams that the Bucs jumped in trading up for Marpet, Licht correctly anticipated two of them taking guards — the Seahawks drafted two in the fourth round and the Patriots took one in the same round. It proved a small price to pay.

"I didn't want to risk it," Licht said. "I had a relationship with (Colts GM) Ryan Grigson, and we'd talked about doing some horse trading. I just had a little bit of a gut feeling."

Licht had the same feeling the next day — he again moved up four spots from No. 128, giving up a seventh-rounder to nab LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander 124th, finding another surprise starter and draft gem.

Marpet, entrenched as a starting guard and superior run blocker as he enters his second NFL season, is proud to know his name will come up in this year's draft as NFL teams again decide how high to go after unlikely prospects from small schools.

"Every time I'm playing, I still feel like I'm representing Division III football," he said. "There were other guys before me — (receivers) Pierre Garcon, Cecil Shorts — and I just thought, 'Hey, I can do this.' "

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Path of Ali Marpet from D-III unknown to Bucs' second-round draft pick 04/22/16 [Last modified: Sunday, April 24, 2016 12:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: An up-and down day for Jose De Leon


    Rays RHP Jose De Leon had a busy Monday - getting called up to join the Rays for the first time and making his way from Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston and the flying to Texas, working 2 2/3 eventful innings to get the W in the 10-8 victory over the Rangers, and then getting optioned back to Triple-A.

    Jose De Leon follows through in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on May 29, 2017.
  2. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  3. Four key games that could decide Bucs' success in 2017


    The Bucs finished so close to making the playoffs in 2016 -- literally flip-flop the last two results and have them beat the Saints and lose to the Panthers and they're in as a wild card with the same 9-7 record -- that it's difficult to say with any certainty what will happen in the 2017 season.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, shown celebrating a touchdown against the Giants in 2015, will face New York again this fall in Week 4 in Tampa.
  4. Frank Deford wrote with sincerity, giving depth to complicated sports figures

    Human Interest

    Frank Deford practically invented the notion of multimedia: He exported his voice to radio, TV and film, and if you didn't know him you might have thought he was an actor, because he wore purple suits and looked like Clark Gable. But Frank, who died Sunday at age 78, was a writer above all things, and an important …

    In a 1991 photo, Frank Deford holds a proof of The National Sports Daily, of which he was editor and publisher [Associated Press]
  5. Clarity coming this week on Florida Gators, Malik Zaire


    After months of speculation, we could finally get some clarity this week on the Florida Gators and graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire.

    SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.