Meet the New Steeler: Marcus Tucker
5’10” tall. 190 pounds. Played at an unheralded school in Michigan. Best 40 time is 4.47. Wide receiver. Whatever.
This is most likely what many people said when the Steelers used an actual draft pick on a small Central Michigan wide receiver seven years ago. And now, of course, that undersized guy from Central Michigan is either the best or the next best wide receiver in the NFL, depending on who you talk to. Pro Football Focus would tell you he was the best last season. Only Julio Jones was even very close, by their reckoning.
So is Marcus Tucker the next 5’10” 190 pound Michigan receiver to wow the NFL? Probably not. The chances against this happening twice are pretty high. But is there even a chance of it? Of course. There’s always a chance, because Tucker has earned that chance.
It’s easy to see the similarities. But there are definitely differences. The first way in which the Tucker story diverges from AB’s is his draft status, as no one wanted to take a chance on Tucker during the draft. This is not surprising, since he didn’t get a combine invitation.
But in terms of likely success in the NFL, there’s little to no difference between a sixth round pick and a UDFA. In fact, there’s very possibly a greater chance of sticking, oddly, as noted in this article. The only rub is, Tucker wasn’t signed as a UDFA either. He received an invitation to rookie minicamp, and was signed to the 90-man roster at the end of it. So I’m not sure what category this even puts him in, other than that of the Really Highly Improbable.
Just out of curiosity, I checked the list of invitees to rookie minicamp against the current roster, and according to Bob Labriola there were 54 players at rookie minicamp. 16 of those were players who, like Tucker, went undrafted and unsigned. Of those 16, only Tucker and Brandon Johnson are left.
Some more differences—Tucker is slightly heavier than Brown was in 2011 (192 vs. 186), although Brown is now down to 181 pounds, and I can guarantee a lot more of it is muscle than it was back in 2011. Tucker may or may not have the quickness Brown did, but their best 40 times are exactly the same. Tucker is two years older than AB was when he was drafted—Brown was almost 22 when drafted, Tucker just turned 24.
So what’s to like about Tucker’s chances? Well, he won’t lose out for lack of guts, as detailed in this story from Michigan Live:
Cynthia Tucker is a huge fan of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
So after participating in a three-day rookie minicamp with the organization on Sunday, her son Marcus Tucker built the courage to ask the head coach for a big favor.
After seeing many prospects getting released from the team, he asked Tomlin to wish Cynthia a Happy Mother’s Day over the phone.
“I didn’t know if I was staying or going or what,” Tucker explained. “So in my mind, I thought this might be the last time that I would ever get to see Coach Tomlin.”
To his surprise, Tomlin agreed.
Once Marcus put his mother on speaker phone, Tomlin jumped in on the conversation, which Marcus said went like this: “He was like, ‘Hey this is Mike Tomlin the head coach of the Steelers,’ then instantly my mom started crying and saying, ‘Oh, my God!’ And then he said, ‘I just wanted to tell you Happy Mother’s Day and I also wanted to tell you that you’ve raised a fine young man and we want to give him a chance to make this football team, so we’re going to sign him to our 90-man roster.'”
Love the story, for what it says about Tucker, his relationship with his mother, and Mike Tomlin.
Let’s compare his and Brown’s college stats. Naturally Brown’s were more impressive, especially when taking into consideration that Central Michigan is in the MAC conference (I-A) and Northern Michigan, where Tucker played, is Division II. (Strangely, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan are also in the MAC conference—only Northern Michigan is not.)
Both sets of stats are for three years, because although Tucker was a senior in his final year at NMU, he only played football for three years.
If you divide the total receiving yards by the total games they played, there isn’t an enormous difference between Brown and Tucker – an average of 78 yards per game for Brown and 73 yards per game for Tucker. And Tucker actually had a slightly higher touchdown/game average than Brown, as long as you are only looking at receiving touchdowns, and a higher yards/catch number.
But when you add in all of the yards and scores for rushing and returns Brown blows Tucker out of the water. Which you would sort of expect, given that Brown has been revealed to be a special talent at the NFL level.
So why did Tucker only play three years at NMU? It turns out he spent 2011 at a community college, played basketball at Lake Michigan College in 2012, and switched to football and NMU in 2013. He was a team captain for two of the three years, and team MVP. He majored in criminal justice at NMU, and graduated one week before the Steelers came calling.
What’s special about his game? Here’s a highlight reel which might have given the coaching staff reason to give him a tryout in the first place:
There are a couple of things I like in this. First of all, there’s no pounding music behind it to cloud your judgment. I wish they would all do them this way. But as far as footbally stuff goes, he seems to be able to shake defenders free with shiftiness, and he doesn’t appear to need a perfect throw to catch the ball. He was apparently always where the QB expected him.
Of course, this was a highlight reel. It would really help people like me if they would also put up lowlight reels, but that is a bit much to ask.
What lies ahead for Tucker? Nobody knows. If he can figure out how to work as hard as Antonio Brown, he might just have a chance to turn into a real asset. Apparently work shouldn’t be an issue. Jon Ledyard, writing for Scout.com, quoted Tucker recently:
“I’m more of a lead-by-example kind of guy,” said Tucker. “I don’t say much, especially now because I don’t know much, but what I do know is dedication and hard work. I’m just pushing myself each day to get better and learn, and when I get out there, display what I can do.”
He’s got his chance now. For someone in his position, just having the chance is amazing. Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot got a terrific quote from Tucker about what it was like:
In Pittsburgh, there have only been eight tryouts immediately signed to a contract over the last five years. You can ballpark it at about 10%. But you can guarantee 100% of the players brought in, signed or not, have been shown respect by the coaching staff. Tucker isn’t the first to tell me that but he affirmed it.
“That’s one thing I love about being here. It doesn’t matter if you’re AB or if you’re the 90th man on the roster. You still have an opportunity to go out there every day, be coached up, and be given a chance to make this football team. The respect level and the way they treat guys here. I haven’t been anywhere else, nor do I want to be, but being here, it’s definitely a great experience. ”
It’s a very interesting article. Tucker talks about the help he gets from the other receivers, which corners are the biggest challenge, and so on. In the Scout.com article quoted earlier he also mentions players who have been very helpful to him, especially Bruce Gradkowski.
Perhaps Tucker does have a little bit of a leg up—his wide receivers coach at NMU, Marcus Knight, was coached by Richard Mann when Knight played for Tampa Bay in 2004. Thus, says Tucker, much of the terminology was familiar to him, which had to have helped him absorb the playbook in the three days he had to persuade the Steelers to keep him on.
I’ll finish with a quote from the Steelers Depot article which tells us something about Tucker’s motivation:
“I want to do this for my family. My family pushes me everyday to continue to chase my dream and continue to do the things they’re proud of seeing me do. I don’t want to let my family down, I don’t want to let my brothers down. And in that family realm, there’s also my teammates, my coaches. That’s who I play for. My family.”
Best of luck, Mr. Tucker. See you at training camp!
Speaking of which, I will go to camp as much as possible, hopefully beginning today, and put up reports on any practices I watch. Just in case you were wondering, I will make no attempt whatsoever to be objective. I want all of these guys to succeed. Naturally I’m in for a world of disappointment once the cuts begin, but as Scarlett said, I’ll think about that in the morning…