Following the offseason departure of veteran pass-rusher Chris Clemons, the Seattle Seahawks were looking to add quality depth to their defensive end group. Apparently they found what they were looking for – and possibly much more – during the third day of the 2014 NFL Draft when they selected hybrid pass-rusher, and former UCLA madman, Cassius Marsh.
Marsh started his college career as a true freshman in 2010, weighing over 300 pounds and playing primarily at defensive tackle. That’s quite the contrast from the sculpted 255 pound Adonis seen flying all over the field for the Bruins in 2013. Yet despite his fluctuating college weight and lack of a “true position,” Marsh seems to bring a perfect blend of competitive drive and playing experience with him to the NFL.
Playing under the tutelage of former Seahawks head coach Jim Mora likely had its benefits for Marsh. While he was overlooked throughout the majority of the draft process, Marsh comes to the NFL with a wealth of knowledge – despite being just 21 years of age – as well as an NFL pedigree being the son of former NFL receiver Curtis Marsh. However, it is the defensive system he played in under Mora that may be most beneficial in the young pass-rusher’s transition to the big stage.
At UCLA, Marsh played with several other talented defensive linemen. Perhaps the most impressive of which was defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid Anthony Barr. Barr was a first-round draft pick this year (2014) and often played opposite Marsh in pass-rushing situations. While it may be a crude comparison at this point in their young careers, the two UCLA specialists at times resembled Seattle’s own bookends from last season, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Barr, in this scenario, roughly compares to Avril being the more athletic of the two and often characterized as a “quick-twitch” pass rusher. Meanwhile, Bennett and Marsh resemble the more traditional 4-3 defensive end with the size and ability to anchor against the run as well as rush the passer. Of course, there is no way to know whether either UCLA rookie – Barr or Marsh – will project to the NFL as well as Avril and Bennett. Yet, the visual and philosophical comparisons are certainly fascinating and may allow fans to see what type of a role Marsh could be in line for with the Seahawks.
After his selection in the fourth round, some people questioned Marsh’s projected playing weight. While there is absolutely no certainty at this time, there have been several rumors during early OTA sessions that Marsh will play in the 265-280-pound range. If true, that would give credibility to the early speculation that he could rotate with Bennett at the three-technique and five-technique spots along Seattle’s defensive line, depending on the situation. Of course, nothing is set in stone.
While Marsh may not seem like a perfect fit for the “Leo” end position in head coach Pete Carroll’s defense, he could possess the necessary skill set off the edge. If he were to keep his weight at 265 or below, Marsh might be able to maintain the necessary speed to be effective. Plus, with Bennett signing a four-year extension in the offseason, it may be prudent for the Seahawks to search for Avril’s successor rather than create a Bennett-clone out of Marsh. After all, Avril will be a free agent following the 2014 season, and with pricey contract extensions being handed to Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman this offseason, it seems likely that the Seahawks are done handing out big money to players not named Russell Wilson.
Regardless, if Avril isn’t re-signed by Seattle following the 2014 season, Bruce Irvin will be the only player on the roster with significant playing time as a Leo end in coach Carroll’s now infamous hybrid defense. While Irvin is certainly talented, he alone won’t inspire a ton of confidence in Seattle’s pass-rush meaning Marsh could find himself lining up in a variety of positions throughout his rookie year in order to find his best and most natural fit. Luckily for him, versatility is a trait Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn absolutely adore in their players.