With their top two running backs both plagued by high ankle sprains, the Raiders will need someone to depend on against the Ravens on Sunday. If Marcel Reece can prove to be reliable, he could have the breakout performance he’s been hinting at for the past three years.
Reece is finally set to have a major role in Oakland’s offense with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson likely out against the Ravens on Sunday. Reece and second-year player Taiwan Jones will be sharing the starting halfback role. Halfback is one role the fifth-year player doesn’t have a lot of experience in.
The Raiders’ 6-foot-1, 255-pound fullback went undrafted out of the University of Washington in 2008. He was a 6-foot-1, 240-pound wide receiver then, who flashed at times in college, but couldn’t consistently help his 4-9 offense get out of the depths of the then Pac 10. Reece ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the Huskies’ pro day after not being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine — an impressive time for any athlete, but especially notable for a player his size.
Despite Reece’s otherworldly athleticism and inconsistent, but still impressive highlight plays with the Huskies, no team could find a place to draft him in 256 picks in the 2008 NFL draft. The problem wasn’t his speed, but more his size. The NFL couldn’t decide if he was a too-big wide receiver, a too-small tight end, or a too-inexperienced fullback. Reece went down the road to work out for the Seahawks at the time, and their team president Tim Ruskell had some not-too flattering things to say.
“Marcel had some big plays for the Huskies; the consistency factor just wasn’t there,” Ruskell told the Seattle PI in 2008. “So we have to look at: OK, why does that happen? If it doesn’t go well for him on draft day, it’s going to be the consistency issue. Because he hits a lot of the markers you look for.”
It’s no surprise then, that Reece had one of his best inconsistent days of his career against Seattle back in 2010. On Halloween in Oakland — playing the team he once tried out for, but wasn’t good enough — the Raider had the game of his career. It was his only game with 100 total yards as he ran for 32 yards on two carries and caught three passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Reece’s biggest strengths come in catching the ball out of the backfield. When the former-Husky has an open field in front of him, he can build up his downhill speed and barrel through defenders with his 255-pound frame. He’s not an experienced ball carrier, but a career 4.9 yard per carry average suggests he could be successful in the role. He’s a one-cut back who won’t dazzle with jukes or spin moves. Reece’s hands have been a constant in his short career. He hasn’t dropped a pass since 2010, and he has just three drops his entire career. When the ball is thrown his way, and it’s on the mark, he’s bringing it in.
Reece is an above average blocker, especially since he had very little experience in the role before coming to the pros. The matchup nightmare was known for the big play in college — he spent two years at junior colleges before transferring to the Huskies. In 43 college games, he caught 120 passes for 2,866 yards and 29 touchdowns — a 23.9 yards per reception average.
So why hasn’t Oakland given the fan favorite a bigger role? Well, it’s probably the same reason that Oakland can’t keep a head coach and hasn’t had a winning record since Rich Gannon was under center. That, and given Reece’s role as a fullback, his biggest opportunities typically come on dump offs and check downs.
Reece may not be your typical every-down back in the NFL, nor will he probably ever have that role. But he’s finally getting the bigger role that he’s deserved for three years now, and if he can finally achieve the consistency that the Seahawks didn’t see in him, he could be a breakout star four years into his NFL career.
Watch some of Reece’s best career highlights in the video below.