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Five things to know about Jartavius Martin


The Washington Commanders selected Illinois defensive back Jartavius Martin with the No. 47 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Here are five things to know about one of the newest members of the secondary. 

1. He went from being a three-star recruit to an important starter for Illinois. 

Martin was not a highly-touted player coming out of Lehigh Acres High School. Despite putting up solid numbers -- 87 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble -- as a senior, he was rated as a three-star recruit by ESPN and a two-star recruit by Rivals. 

Based on how Martin developed after he stepped onto Illinois' campus, it's another example that how many stars a high school player has aren't always a good projection of their career. 

"I was like, 'Holy Toledo.' His explosiveness and ability to jump out of the gym ... Quan is very unique," said Illinois head coach Bret Bielema. 

Martin was not a full-time starter until the 2021 season, but he had started in spots since he was a freshman, when his eight starts in 2018 were the fifth-most for a true freshman in program history. Over the course of his five-year career, he played in 55 games with 40 starts. 

Martin ended his college career on a high note, contributing to a defense that was third in yards allowed (273.5/game) first in touchdowns allowed (15) and eighth in passing yards allowed (173.8/game). He hit a career-high with 64 tackles, leading the team with 51 solo stops, and was third in the Big Ten in pass breakups (14). 

Now, Martin is ready to begin his NFL career, and going from a three-star recruit to the professional ranks is quite the story.

2. He was the best tackler among college cornerbacks last year.

Part of what makes Martin so appealing to the Commanders is how well-rounded he is. As part of a defense that was one of the best in the country, Martin had one of the best defensive grades on the team from Pro Football Focus.

But one area he stands out the most is as a tackler. He got a 90.7 grade from PFF, which was not only the best on high team, but it was also the best among all cornerbacks in 2022.

Martin's knack for bringing down skill players has been clear since his freshman year, when he was seventh on the team with 42 tackles. His skill set continued to improve from there, to the point where his missed tackle rate (4.9%) was the second lowest on the team.

And when Martin made a stop, there was always the chance of him making a game-changing play. Just check out this hit he had on Nebraska's Anthony Grant, which caused a forced fumble at the Cornhuskers' 20-yard line.

3. He was the team barber.

Everyone needs a hobby, and for Martin, it's cutting people's hair.

According to Dane Brugler's "The Beast" guide, which comes out on The Athletic every year, Martin was the team's unofficial barber and kept several of his teammates looking fresh during the season. You can check out the results on Martin's Instagram: j.21.martin

So, will Martin continue practicing his barber skills with his new team?

"Oh yeah, man, as much as I can," Martin said.

4. He was the Illini defense's Swiss Army Knife.

Martin was used primarily on the outside to start his career with 745 of his defensive snaps in 2018 and 2019 coming at the perimeter of the unit. Once Illinois began to realize how valuable he can be, though, Martin's defined position became a little more fluid.

"Whatever it is they need me to do, I just go out and do it; whether it's erasing or whatever it is," Martin said. "If that's what he sees me as then that's what I'm going to go out and do."

Martin did not spend much time on the outside during his final three seasons with the Illini; that responsibility was left primarily to players like first-round pick Devon Witherspoon. Instead, Illinois used him in the slot (911 snaps), free safety (284 snaps) and near the box (223 snaps). He even got 49 snaps close to the defensive line.

When it comes to what makes him so good in the slot, Martin credited his understanding of route concepts and the poise he plays with.

"I feel like it's one of the hardest positions to play in the back end. So just being able to just understand that position and go make plays and help supporting the run."

Scouts peppered Bielema during the draft process on which position he could see Martin at in the NFL, but the head coach could not give them one answer.

"I think after being in the NFL I can see Quan being evaluated at four different positions: STAR, boundary and field safety and both corner spots. I really think he brings a unique skill set that isn't very common."

5. Chris Simms called him the best safety in the draft.

Some were confused by the Commanders double dipping into the pool of defensive backs to start the draft. They had already taken Emmanuel Forbes Jr. with their first-round pick, but adding another defensive back seemed perplexing, given there were other players at positions of need on the board.

To Chris Simms, the decision wasn't confusing at all.

"Top safety in the draft," Simms said. "He's got very good cover skills. I mean, amazing cover skills."

Simms pointed out that Martin does not have top-end speed, but everything else about him is impressive. He had the second-fastest 10-yard split at the combine (1.47), which tells Simms that he has rare shot area quickness. Simms was also blown away by how Martin succeeded against a variety of slot receivers in man and zone coverage.

"And damn, if they run the toss sweep and edge run, he will go in and throw his body around like a psycho," Simms said.

That's the same thing Ron Rivera saw in Martin. So, while the Commanders had already addressed their depth in the secondary, his talents were too good to pass up.

"When we got to that point and we're looking at what the options were, we really felt we could solidify that depth that we need in the secondary and actually have a guy that could also come in and compete to start at nickel and gives us some safety value as well," Rivera said.

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