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Scouting Jets safety Marqui Christian

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Jets signed former Los Angeles Rams safety Marqui Christian so we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.

The 25-year old is listed at 5’11” and 207 pounds and was a fifth round pick out of Midwestern State in 2016. He spent most of his first four seasons with the Rams. He has 81 tackles, three passes defensed and a quarterback hit in his career.

Background

Christian played his college football at Division II Midwestern State where he was their all-time leading tackler with 295 tackles in four seasons. He also recorded two sacks and scored two defensive touchdowns.

In his final year, Christian racked up a career high 95 tackles and won the Cliff Harris Award for the best small school player in the nation. Current Jets cornerback Pierre Desir is a former winner of the same award.

Having established himself as a sleeper for the 2016 draft, Christian was selected in the fifth round by the Arizona Cardinals for whom he attended training camp and played well in preseason. He ended up on the opening day roster, but was a healthy scratch for the first three games and then, once the Cardinals tried to sneak him onto the practices squad, the Rams claimed him off waivers.

Over the next two seasons, Christian played primarily on special teams, recording 11 total tackles, but in 2018 he became their third safety and recorded 36 tackles, a pass defensed and a quarterback hit in a reserve role.

Last season, he made the first start of his career but was again mostly employed as the third safety and again had 36 tackles, adding two pass breakups.

In free agency, the Jets and Christian were reported to have agreed terms on a one-year $1.25 million deal worth up to $2 million. However, the deal fell through and then it was revealed that Christian would be suspended for the first two games of the 2020 season.

The Bears signed Christian in August and placed him on the practice squad at the end of his suspension, but the Jets immediately poached him and added him to their active roster, where he must remain for at least three games, by rule.

Now let’s take a look at what Christian brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Christian’s pro day workout numbers were solid across the board with his 6.85 three cone drill standing out. Also, although his official 40-yard dash time was 4.54, he actually ran 4.46 on one of his two runs.

He has average size and length and managed 14 bench press reps in his pro day workout.

Usage

Christian is a versatile player who can play in the box or deep and match up in the slot or with tight ends. He played more deep safety in 2019 than he had in the previous season.

In college, Christian started most of his games as the “WHIP” safety but did start a few at free safety.

Coverage skills

Christian’s main attributes that stand out in coverage are his range and closing speed. He mostly plays off coverage so he can keep everything in front of him and react to short passes, but he will play too far off his man at times.

When playing center field his range is an asset and he can pick up downfield assignments in zone coverage.

He moves around well and can stay with his man on man coverage assignments but doesn’t always look entirely smooth when backpedaling or coming out of a transition.

His overall numbers have been solid and he’s not really been burned for any big plays in man coverage. However, he did get beaten for three touchdowns in 2019, all of which were when he was matched up in the slot. Prior to that, he had not given up any touchdowns.

Physicality

Christian shows some good physicality in coverage, displaying an ability to disrupt his man’s route downfield and be strong at the catch point. Despite this physicality, he has never been flagged for pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact.

While usually employed in off coverage, he has played some press coverage on occasion, notably when with the Cardinals in his rookie preseason.

At times, he has made some big hits when tackling or attempting to break up passes.

Ball skills

Christian has just three passes defensed in his NFL career so far, but he shows off his closing speed and athleticism on this play.

As noted, he’s at his best when he can keep the action in front of him. On this play, he reacts to the receiver rather than anticipating and this means he doesn’t have time to turn his head, locate the ball and get his hands up to contest the catch.

Christian has yet to record an interception in the NFL, although he did badly drop an easy one in preseason when he was a rookie. He had three interceptions in college, but the last of those was six years ago.

Run defense

Although he’s played quite a bit in the box, Christian has mostly just played in passing situations, so he hasn’t had many chances to make plays in the running game. He shows an ability to do that here though.

He was actually more productive against the run in 2019 than he had been in 2018 despite the fact he played in the box less.

He doesn’t really have the size to take on blockers, so Christian will seek to avoid them in space, often giving ground to do so.

Tackling

One thing Christian seems to do well is take good angles in space without being overly conservative. He’s good at pursuing across the field and seems to be a good judge of his own speed, often making drag down tackles at full stretch.

He hasn’t generally had issues with missed tackles, but did miss several in 2019, most of which came in the running game.

As noted, Christian can make some big hits, often stopping bigger players in their tracks. He hasn’t forced a fumble at the NFL level yet, although he does try to strip the ball out at times. He had one forced fumble in college, during his senior year.

Blitzing

Christian hasn’t been very successful as a pass rusher at the NFL level with just one quarterback hit to his name so far in his career. He did have a few more in preseason action though - and was credited with two sacks as a college player.

On this play, he lines up in the box and blitzes behind the other inside linebacker to force the quarterback to set up.

Special teams

Christian has been a core special teamer with the Rams, playing on all major units and averaging over 20 special teams plays per game for the past three seasons. His 356 special teams snaps last season would have led the Jets by a significant margin.

In kick coverage, he’s racked up 11 tackles so far in his career, including on this impressive play.

Christian also been used as a blocker, including in the vice role on the punt return unit and as part of the punt protection unit.

However, he’s racked up nine special teams penalties in his career, nearly all of which have been for holding or an illegal block in the back.

In 2018, he was credited with an 11-yard punt return as he showed good awareness to pick up and run back a deflected punt.

In college, he made his mark as a freshman by recovering a bad snap on a punt to set up the winning score in the closing seconds of a come-from-behind win.

Instincts/Intelligence

As noted, Christian is a player who will react and rely on his closing speed to make plays. He generally does a good job of this but can get caught out at times by being a step too far off or reacting a beat late.

On this play he is too preoccupied with staying with his man so he doesn’t anticipate and is slowed down by the rub route.

He can also make some misreads in deep coverage. On this play he initially looks to pick up a covered receiver before realizing too late that the tight end has been passed off into his coverage.

He had one penalty for being illegally downfield on a kick while playing special teams.

Attitude

Christian is regarded as having a good work ethic, character and determination, as you’d expect for someone from a small school background.

His suspension, the reasons for which have never been released, is a minor concern and he was ejected from a game and suspended for the first half of the next game for targeting while he was in college.

His on-field discipline on defense at the pro level has been pretty good though, although he has been called for a face mask penalty and an illegal block in the back on a teammate’s interception return.

Injuries

Christian ended up on injured reserve in each of his first two seasons, although in each case the injury was near the end of the year. He had an ankle injury in 2016 and a shoulder injury in 2017.

In all, he’s missed 11 games in his career, although two were due to suspension and three were as a healthy scratch. He played all 16 games in 2018 and 2019, as well as in all three postseason games including the Rams’ Super Bowl appearance after the 2018 season.

He missed one start due to injury during his college career.

Scheme Fit

Christian was originally signed on the basis that he was going to be the Jets’ third safety, but they’ve drafted Ashtyn Davis since then so this may no longer be their intention. His versatility should give them better depth at either safety position, though.

He should know the system, because Gregg Williams was still with the Rams in his rookie year, albeit that Christian only played three defensive snaps that season.

He was a teammate of John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Hager while with the Rams.

Conclusions

Christian should be able to step in immediately and contribute on special teams, but is unlikely to see much, if any, action on defense unless someone gets hurt.

However, with the rate at which Jets players have been dropping so far this season, the prospect of someone getting injured seems likely so he should be prepared to be thrown into the fire, especially if the rookie Davis isn’t deemed ready for a full-time role.

If he does play, he’ll provide the Jets with a good athlete who so far in his career doesn’t tend to make any catastrophic mistakes but realistically lacks the upside to be considered a potential future star.