Gabe Martin was a good college football player. He was an All-MAC selection three times in his career, led his team in tackles two different season, and led the Mid-American Conference in tackles-for-loss this past season. Often, even great college players have trouble finding success at the next level.
Most professional scouting reports give Martin a shot at being drafted, but more likely an undrafted free agent signing that will eventually make his way to camp this summer with some NFL team. Like many players from the smaller conferences, the book on Martin says he doesn't have the desired measurable that NFL teams look for. He's not big enough (6'1", 226 lb.) to play linebacker and not fast enough (4.67-4.88) to play safety in the NFL.
However, the NFL is filled with undersized guys that seem to have a nose for the football. That accurately describes Martin during his four years at Bowling Green State University. As a red-shirt sophomore in 2012, Martin played in all 13 games and started nine of the. He led the Falcons defense in tackles with 70, including 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. For his efforts, he was named First Team All-MAC.
In 2013, he was an integral part of the MAC's best and most dominating defense that carried the Falcons to a league championship. Unfortunately, Martin didn't get to play in that championship game at Ford Field in Detroit. In fact, he missed the final seven games of the season after suffering a torn ACL injury. Despite playing in just seven games, Martin still managed to record 36 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Opposing MAC coaches still thought enough of Martin to name him Second Team All-MAC.
Last year, big things were expected of the Falcon defense as many as seven starters were expected back. However, senior lineman Zach Colvin missed the entire season with an illness and fellow seniors, linebacker D.J. Lynch and defensive back Ryland Ward both missed significant time with injuries. That left Martin to be the leader of a suddenly inexperienced group trying to learn a new scheme under a new coaching staff.
That's a tall order and the results weren't good early on. The Bowling Green defense was statistically one of the worst in college football midway through last season. But, the Falcons got some of the injured players back and the defense actually played good football down the stretch. Good enough to lead the Falcons to a MAC east division title and a repeat appearance in the MAC championship game. Martin got his chance to play in this one but the Falcons were completely overmatched by the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Martin started all 14 games in 2014 and again led the Falcons with 115 tackles, including a MAC-leading 18 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. But again his leadership of a young and inexperienced unit was probably his biggest contribution.
The pro scouting reports say Martin had trouble covering pass catching tight ends, and he had trouble getting off blocks in the ground game. Not a great combination for someone looking for work at the next level. The Wisconsin game this past year is a game where scouts specifically point to where Martin struggled against elite talent. But, it's hard to single Martin out against the Badgers. The entire Bowling Green defense got run over in that game at Madison.
Still other scouts point to Martin's production level in college and think he has a chance to be a late-round draft pick. But no matter how Martin gets to camp with an NFL team this year, he'll have to carve out a role on special teams.