This year’s talent-rich cornerback class could see as many as a half-dozen from this group of prospects selected in the first round, which certainly bodes well for the Packers, but also diverts the spotlight away from the next tier of cover men that could dramatically alter their standing on draft boards with a strong performance at the scouting combine.
Among these back-end defenders is Florida State’s Marquez White, who first came to Tallahassee with the kind of hoop dreams that many undersized basketball players harbor at the collegiate level only to eventually come to grips with the fact that they may be best suited to take on another sport or tackle a profession outside of athletics altogether.
The Alabama-born freshman made the jump to football where his 6-foot frame, 32 1/8” arms and ability to quickly absorb coaching made him a better fit to shadow wide receivers as a cornerback, who spent his first two years serving as a backup and on special teams before earning a starting role.
White emerged as one of the top corners in the ACC in his junior year due in large part to his uncanny instincts to read offenses particularly in off-man coverage where he would often put himself in position to deter the quarterback from throwing in his direction.
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Those that critique his production based on the fact that he only defensed 11 passes in his four years as a Seminole may be overlooking how offenses typically avoided White in the passing game.
A stat more indicative of the two-sport athlete’s impact over the past two seasons is the one touchdown White allowed to wide receivers in 26 consecutive starts.
And if that’s not enough to underscore the 22-year-old’s consistently dominant level of play, Ryan Jenson of Rotoworld.com recently highlighted how White ranked first among his peers at the college level in allowing only 0.33 yards per coverage snap in early November.
An invitation to this year’s Senior Bowl was this NFL hopeful’s opportunity to silence his critics by matching up with some of the top pass catchers college football had to offer.
White seized the moment by routinely exhibiting great timing by closing in on passes before they landed in his opponent’s mitts.
Furthermore, he showed his wares in press coverage and used his instincts to prevent attempts on the part of opposing receivers to bait him with double moves.
This rookie-in-training’s next pre-draft challenge takes place in Indianapolis, where he will once again take the stage to showcase his potential to 32 NFL teams, many of which are very much in the market for cornerbacks that can step in and produce from day one.
My interview with White revealed a self-assured young man that is fully aware of the skills and physical tools he brings to the table, while also embracing every bit of the work and continued commitment required from him to realize his goal of starting at the next level.
The conversation took place mere days before the start of combine activities.
Q: How has your background in basketball helped your development as a cornerback?
A: Playing basketball was key in my development in a lot of ways. As a db, I was able to use a lot of the same motor skills. A lot of the things you do on the basketball court as far as playing defense, you also do on the football field.
Q: Do you still find yourself missing basketball?
A: Oh yeah, I miss it and I still play every now and then. But right now, I’m in love with the game of football—that’s my sport. It’s the sport that’s going to give me the opportunity to support my family. I was able to take football further than I was able to go with basketball.
Q: Your pre-combine 40-time is listed at 4.49. What are your plans going into the combine as far as what you’re looking to accomplish with your timed activities and position drills?
A: I just want to do my best in every aspect of the combine and prove that I’m one of the best corners in my class. This class is very talented, very deep. You have lots of guys that can play. But I feel like I can run with the best of them. That’s why I’m going to the combine. That’s why I’m working my butt off. Since I’ve started training, I’ve gone from 179, 180 pounds to 191—that’s a big thing for me. I’m confident that I’ll be poised and mature and whoever invests in me will make a great decision.
Q: What’s your favorite part of playing cornerback?
A: Just the competitive part. Football overall is a competitive sport, but I feel that you have to have not a cocky ego, but an ego about yourself that there’s no one else out there with you on an island. It’s just you and the receiver and you have to win. So having that pressure on me to play well is great. You’ve gotta be a man to play.
Q: Can you talk about the Senior Bowl and some of the battles you engaged in down in Mobile? I noticed that you weren’t biting on those double cuts receivers tried to shake you off with.
A: It was really good. I was out there with some really top-notch and top-tier guys. To have an opportunity to be out there was just a blessing. I definitely wanted to be the best corner out there. In my opinion, I showed that I was if not the best, definitely one of the best. I would say I was one of the top two or three guys. As for anticipating double moves, I just watch lots of film and [practicing] against a pro-style offense at Florida State helped me out a lot. Going against Jimbo (Fisher) every day, there’s not a route I haven’t seen. He threw everything at me he could just to try to make me better.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a cornerback in terms of strengths and weaknesses?
A: I don’t think any part of my game is weak. I just think there’s always something I can improve on. I don’t look at that as a weakness, but just something to constantly work on. I’m always in position and I don’t give up big plays. I’ve played a lot of snaps against high-level competition. I come to work every day. I’m reliable and I’m accountable. You can count on me to play because I don’t miss games. I’ve also developed into a leader over the course of my career. I’m just a guy that loves and cherishes the game.
Q: What’s the most underrated part of your game?
A: I would just say it’s the consistency. I’ve played at the highest level in the ACC going against some of the top quarterbacks in the draft right now and holding my own against them every time along with the great receivers we played…great offenses…great coaches. Giving up one touchdown (over the past two seasons)…I think that’s really big with the way I keep everything in front of me. Being a corner is about playing with confidence on an island and I feel that I do that really well.
Q: How would you evaluate yourself as a run defender?
A: I’m a decent run defender. I get people on the ground. I’m not Ronnie Lott, but I get people on the ground. I can play in space. I may have my lapses like I every corner does, but it’s definitely something I can improve on. I’m not down on myself about it.
Q: What can you tell me about the defense you played in?
A: It was an aggressive style defense. We started off kind of shaky at the beginning of the season, but we got stronger. I think we accomplished a lot of the goals we set out to do before the season started. Charles Kelly is a great defensive coordinator and there were a lot of guys on that defense that are going to play at the next level. He had a hard job deciding who to play with all that talent on the roster.
Q: What was the biggest highlight of your college career?
A: One of the biggest highlights of my career was being named one of the team captains. That’s the biggest compliment I ever received. The guys in the secondary really rallied around me.
Q: Florida State has such a storied program. I’m sure you had a chance to visit with Hall-of-Famers Deion Sanders, Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks when they were on campus. How was that like?
A: Yeah, they’re like older brothers. They really keep tradition like they should. And now some of the younger guys like Jameis (Winston) are starting to do that.
Q: You played with Jalen Ramsey of the Jacksonville Jaguars. What kind of relationship do you have with him? I’m sure he’s giving you some tips.
A: I talk to him a lot and he told me you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to be able to take a grown man’s job. He’s actually coming back to help me at the camp I’m having on March 11. That just tells you a little bit about the relationship we have. He takes time out of his offseason to help me.
Q: Which cornerbacks do you study at the next level?
A: All of my guys that are in the league. P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, Jalen Ramsey, LaMarcus Joyner…all those guys I had an opportunity to play with. I just take a little bit from everybody. Xavier Rhodes too. I didn’t get a chance to play with him, but he gave me a lot of good advice. All of those guys from Florida State take time out to talk to me. It shows you the type of brotherhood we have.
Q: Early in you career you had a chance to practice against Jameis Winston. What was that like?
A: He challenged me even as a freshman. We spent a lot of time together. He showed me things that helped me.
Q: You’re an Alabama guy. What made you choose FSU over a lot of the SEC schools?
A: I wanted to play at the best university in the nation with all the tradition that we have. That really means a lot, man. It felt like home more than anyplace else.
Q: What is your favorite movie of all time?
A: He Got Game
Q: Who is your favorite music artist?
Q: Which female celebrity would you love going on one dream date with…if you didn’t have a girlfriend of course?
Q: Would three words would best describe you as a player, as a teammate and as an individual?
A: Reliable, accountable and dependable.