Saturday proved to be a long day for Washington State’s Gabe Marks, who watched the NFL draft from his hometown of Venice, Calif. and waited out all seven rounds but never heard his name called.
Marks ultimately signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent, but his frustration with his situation was tangible on social media throughout Saturday afternoon. By the time the sixth round began, he seemed miffed that he was still waiting for a phone call even though 26 receivers had already come off the board, tweeting, “Round 6. On it goes,” followed by, “Production doesn’t matter.”
Marks’ slide was surprising considering how he finished his college career as the Pac-12’s all-time career leader in receptions. Marks also holds WSU’s career records for receptions (316), touchdowns (37) and receiving yards (3,453).
What accounts for Marks’ draft day snub?
Marks “lacks elite traits,” CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang wrote in a text message to the Seattle Times after the draft, adding that Marks’ statistics were inflated by the Cougars’ Air Raid offense.
It’s a perception that Marks had to fight all through the pre-draft process.
“Guys are trying to call us ‘system receivers’ like that’s a thing,” Marks said in a February interview with the Seattle Times at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It’s not a thing. You’ve still got to do it. It doesn’t matter the system that you are in. You’ve still got to catch the ball. Somebody has to catch the ball and score the touchdowns. If you just put some guy out there that couldn’t play, it wouldn’t work. I just get an opportunity to catch more passes – I can understand that. But I’m still getting open. So the whole ‘system receiver' thing kind of bothers me a little bit.”
But the way the draft played out showed that Marks wasn’t entirely successful in dispelling the notion that his statistics were inflated.
Another reason why Marks might have gone undrafted? His lack of standout measureables, says Dion Caputi, a draft analyst for the National Football Post.
“In a WR class that was seemingly so deep on the backend, a guy like Marks who doesn’t have great size-to-speed ratio took a bit of a knock in value,” Caputi wrote in an email to the Times. “A lot of the receivers taken had that element, even if they were a work in progress.”
At 5-11, 189 pounds, Marks is considered an undersized receiver, and his 4.56 40-yard-dash time, while respectable, was not among the top 10 times clocked by receivers at the NFL combine.
Of the 32 receivers who were drafted over the weekend, 23 stood at 6-foot or taller and eight of the nine receivers who failed to hit the 6-foot mark clocked 40 times that were faster than Marks’.
“Ultimately, a guy like Malachi Dupre from LSU barely wound up being drafted despite being such a highly touted high school player at a major school,” Caputi wrote. “It just goes to show how tough it is to get picked.”
Marks is no stranger to snubs. He did not have many scholarship offers coming out of high school and was notably passed over by his hometown team, UCLA. Throughout his WSU career, he played with a fire fueled by this chip on his shoulder.
“I kind of feel like, sadly, little things have to happen to me all the time just to make me realize I need to stay focused,” Marks told the Spokesman-Review in an interview last summer. “I wish it didn’t have to be like that, but sadly, that’s how it is.”
Marks is also not the first Pac-12 career receptions leader to ever go undrafted. Colorado’s Nelson Spruce, who held the title in 2015 before Marks broke his record last season and is, coincidentally, also a Venice native, went undrafted in 2016 before signing with the Los Angeles Rams.
Like Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who went undrafted coming out of Stanford in 2011, Marks will likely use his draft snub as motivation in his quest to get a shot in pro football.