Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

TAMPA

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 [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

 
Comments
Zero Bucs players on NFL top 100 list for 2018

Zero Bucs players on NFL top 100 list for 2018

Just to preface this, the NFL Network's annual countdown of the league's top 100 players is a made-for-TV deal, good for summer offseason conversation but not carrying any huge amount of real significance.Having said that, it's worth noting that for ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Published: 06/18/18
Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

The Bucs had four extra coaches during organized team activities last month as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, including former Tampa Bay receiver Lawrence Dawsey.Dawsey, 50, played for the Bucs from 1991-95, finishing his time ...
Published: 06/18/18
Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

TAMPA — There's always a lot of attention on the rookie class this time of year, rightfully so. There's a reason the Bucs focused on defense, and DT Vita Vea, CBs M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and S Justin Whitehead all look like they could have ...
Published: 06/16/18
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Times wiresVISTA, Calif. – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was jailed without bail Friday after pleading not guilty to nine counts of kidnapping, rape and other charges.If convicted on all counts, Winslow, 34, could face...
Published: 06/15/18
Bucs still don’t know when Jameis Winston will throw another pass that matters

Bucs still don’t know when Jameis Winston will throw another pass that matters

TAMPA — The last pass thrown by Jameis Winston in a regular-season game was his best. The perfectly arced, 39-yard strike to Chris Godwin for a touchdown with nine seconds left gave the Bucs a 31-24 win over New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium...
Published: 06/15/18
Bucs busy on next Ray-Jay renovation with East Stadium Club

Bucs busy on next Ray-Jay renovation with East Stadium Club

The first Bucs home game of the 2018 season is still three months off, but the franchise is busy getting Raymond James Stadium ready with the fourth phase of its $160 million renovation, highlighted by a new East Stadium Club.Construction continues t...
Published: 06/15/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Gerald McCoy sounds off

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Gerald McCoy sounds off

The Bucs wrap up minicamp as Gerald McCoy sounds off on the team getting help for him, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner yelling at the veteran defensive tackle and advice for the young players who now have five weeks off before training camp.Plu...
Published: 06/15/18
Gerald McCoy: ‘Stop saying Gerald got help. No, the Bucs got help’

Gerald McCoy: ‘Stop saying Gerald got help. No, the Bucs got help’

TAMPA — On the last day of minicamp, DT Gerald McCoy made it clear that the new additions to the defensive line are what the entire team needed, not just himself."It's not about me. It's about the team," McCoy said of the addition of five new l...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Bucs hit summer break with optimism, eager for training camp

Bucs hit summer break with optimism, eager for training camp

TAMPA — This week's three-day minicamp was the final push in the Bucs' offseason, with about six weeks now until the team reconvenes in late July for training camp and the real preamble to the 2018 season.So what, if anything, can be gleaned fr...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18