Much has been about Tom Brady lasting until the 199th pick when he came out of the University of Michigan. But the quarterback with six Super Bowl rings is not even the best draft story on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. That distinction belongs to guard Ali Marpet, as improbable a selection as anyone entering the league this century.
Ali Marpet has been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers stalwart
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were taking no chances early in the 2015 NFL draft. Due to make the first pick of the third round, they engineered a trade of upcoming picks with the Indianapolis Colts to move up four spots to near the tail end of the second round.
The player the Tampa Bay wanted was offensive lineman Ali Marpet, and it quickly became apparent why. At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, and displaying above-average mobility for a man his size, Marpet was made to anchor an NFL line.
Though he would miss four-midseason games due to a leg injury, Marpet was the Buccaneers’ opening-day starter at right guard as a rookie. In 2016, only one guard in the league played more downs than Marpet. Along the way, he continued to distinguish himself on both the run and the pass.
In 2017, the Buccaneers moved Joe Hawley out of his starting center spot and put Marpet in his place. Marpet played 11 games before finishing that season on injured reserve following a knee injury, but his versatility continued to impress.
Marpet returned to guard for the 2018 season and has held down the spot since, this year protecting future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
Ali Marpet made NFL history by being drafted
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the 61st selection of the 2015 NFL draft to select Ali Marpet, he became the highest pick in league history to arrive from an NCAA Division III school. He was the first player from that level taken in the first 100 picks of a draft since the Seattle Seahawks took running back Chris Warren from Ferrum in 1990.
Marpet arrived at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, as a 240-pound lineman and quickly became a force at the D-III level. As a senior, he became the first lineman in the league’s history to earn a piece of the Offensive Player of the Year Award.
NFL scouts had started coming around during Marpet’s junior season to check out the epitome of a big fish in a small pond. What they found was a hard-working prospect who was likely to be the first player to arrive at practice and the last to leave. He had the complete respect of his teammates and classmates.
“The guy protecting Tom Brady right now is the same guy who, six years ago, was literally security at my senior year house parties,“ Yosh Karbowniczak, one of his Hobart teammates, told Syracuse.com.
The small-school setting suited the Super Bowl lineman
Super Bowl 55 will set a record before the national anthem and the opening kickoff – and it’s not one likely to be broken unless the COVID-19 pandemic throws the nation for an even bigger loop next in the next year. The first Super Bowl, played in 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, attracted only 61,946 fans. The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs that afternoon.
Attendance at Super Bowl 55 is capped at about 25,000 fans.
That comes on the heels of a regular season played in empty or nearly empty stadiums, which was the story of Ali Marpet’s career at tiny Hobart College in upstate New York.
“I think one of the unique experiences that I had at Division III that has sort of (lent) itself to the NFL this year specifically is that a lot of stadiums didn’t have a whole lot of fans,” Marpet said this week on a Zoom call with reporters. “I think being able to communicate and have that sort of quiet and bring your own energy, bring your own juice, I’m sort of used to that.
“I kind of enjoy that. So, I think that actually was an advantage for me this year.”