3DownNation top 100 CFL players: No. 35 DB Nick Marshall, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

He’s not only the best Saskatchewan defensive back on this list but he’s taken snaps as their best short-yardage quarterback, too.

If it sounds like Nick Marshall is in unique company, it’s because he is.

Possibly the only defensive back in the modern era to double as quarterback sneaker extraordinaire, Marshall has not only anchored a Roughrider secondary that has ranked at or near the top of most defensive categories, but he’s also piled up a record number of touchdown scores in the process.

A quarterback in the NCAA at Auburn University, Marshall switched to defensive back for the pros, figuring it would give him a better shot at cracking an NFL roster.

Primarily used on special teams, he found work with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015 and saw his role on defense increase throughout the year, culminating in head coach Gus Bradley giving him his first starting assignment for the final week of the season.

A year later, the New York Jets plucked Marshall from the Jags practice roster and he finished 2016 in New York before an early 2017 failed drug test caused him to be suspended and for the Jets to send him his walking papers.

Running out of options, he looked north and signed with Saskatchewan not long before training camp in the spring of 2018.

In his rookie CFL season, Marshall made an instant impact in two of the Riders first four wins that year, including a late summer win over Calgary when the Roughriders snapped the eventual Grey Cup champion Stampeders seven-game win-streak.

Marshall not only turned the tide with an interception-return-touchdown, but he also became the first Roughrider player in 55 years to score a touchdown from both sides of the football.

Saskatchewan had been struggling with quarterback sneaks in the early going that season and then-head coach and general manager Chris Jones didn’t want to fool around with then-quarterback Zach Collaros’s fragile health, either.

A chance conversation with Marshall’s high school coach that spring planted the seed in Jones’ mind that Marshall could be the answer to his team’s short-yardage woes.

Some later prodding from Marshall himself was enough to convince Jones that it was time for another of his patented outside-the-box ideas to lift the fortunes of Rider Nation.

Marshall would rack up nine touchdowns, seven from the offensive side of the ball, and the Riders would win 12 games and grab their first home playoff game since winning the 2013 Grey Cup.

When Jones left for the Cleveland Browns the following off-season, and Craig Dickenson took over as head coach, it was decided that Marshall would focus entirely on defence and not worry about lining up in any wildcat formation.

That move, too, would pay dividends as Marshall would start all but one game in 2019. He produced five interceptions, including a pick-six, and solidify his role as arguably the Riders most reliable cover-guy and tackler.

With the final piece to their star-studded defensive secondary, the Roughriders would win 13 games, their best win total in 49 years. It was all capped by a first-place finish in the West for only the second time since 1976.

When Cody Fajardo’s final pass of the 2019 West Final hit the crossbar, it dashed Marshall’s Grey Cup hopes, just like the rest of Saskatchewan’s. Little did he or anyone else know it would be his last shot at performing on the field for at least 18 months.

It remains to be seen how the layoff will impact his career or status of anchoring the Roughrider secondary, and it’s not out-of-the-question that we might see his two-way antics from both sides of the football again, either.

That versatility and uniqueness adds to the popularity, the myth and the legend of Marshall. But it truly is his role as a full-time defensive back that propels Marshall all the way up to number 35 on our top 100 CFL players list.

3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.

36. DB Aaron Grymes, B.C. Lions
37. LB Larry Dean, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
38. OL Ucambre Williams, Calgary Stampeders
39. DB Ciante Evans, Montreal Alouettes
40. K/P Justin Medlock, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
41. REC DaVaris Daniels, Toronto Argonauts
42. DT Micah Johnson, B.C. Lions
43. OL Shane Bergman, Calgary Stampeders
44. SAM Don Unamba, Ottawa Redblacks
45. DB Ed Gainey, Saskatchewan Roughriders
46. DB Tommie Campbell, Toronto Argonauts
47. LB Adam Bighill, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
48. REC DeVier Posey, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
49. DT Cleyon Laing, Ottawa Redblacks
50. OL Matt O’Donnell, Edmonton Football Team
51. REC Kyran Moore, Saskatchewan Roughriders
52. SAM Kenny Ladler, Free Agent
53. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
54. SAM Dexter McCoil, Free Agent
55. OL Sean McEwen, Calgary Stampeders
56. REC Eugene Lewis, Montreal Alouettes
57. DB Greg Reid, Montreal Alouettes
58. DT Mike Moore, Edmonton Football Team
59. OL Ryker Mathews, B.C. Lions
60. DB Tunde Adeleke, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
61. LB Jameer Thurman, Free Agent
62. QB Matt Nichols, Toronto Argonauts
63. DB Jamar Wall, Calgary Stampeders
64. DB Loucheiz Purifoy, Saskatchewan Roughriders
65. REC Lemar Durant, B.C. Lions
66. OL Brendon LaBatte, Saskatchewan Roughriders
67. OL SirVincent Rogers, Edmonton Football Team
68. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Free Agent
69. DB/RET Frankie Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
70. DB T.J. Lee, B.C. Lions
71. QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
72. SAM Anthony Cioffi, Free Agent
73. DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts
74. REC Kamar Jorden, Calgary Stampeders
75. OL Darius Ciraco, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
76. REC Jalen Saunders, Free Agent
77. QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.