The Raider who once didn’t even have a position is now a Pro Bowler.
Marcel Reece will be playing in his first Pro Bowl this weekend as a fullback, the culmination of a long journey from the University of Washington where he was a standout wide receiver.
Reece, who just concluded his fifth NFL season, was a good wideout for the Huskies, but NFL scouts weren’t sure where he could play as a professional. He went undrafted and was signed by the Dolphins as a free agent. After being released by the Dolphins he was signed by the Raiders, who saw his 6-foot-1, 255-pound frame and turned him into a fullback. He was on the team’s practice squad in 2008 and 2009.
Since 2010, Reece has been opening eyes at the fullback position and earning the praise of teammates and coaches for his ability as a blocker, situational runner and receiver out of the backfield.
This season was a breakthrough in his career.
Reece rushed for a career-high 271 yards on 59 carries – a 4.6-yard average – and caught 52 passes (second on the team) for 496 yards and a touchdown.
Reece ranked fourth among all NFL backs in receptions and No. 1 for yards per catch, at 9.5.
When running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson were injured during the season, Reece filled in as the primary ballcarrier and did an excellent job. In a Raiders loss to the Saints, he rushed for 103 yards and had 90 receiving yards, falling just 10 yards short of becoming the first Raiders back since Marcus Allen in 1986 to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.
Though Reece flies under the media radar, his teammates have known for a while how good he is.
Reece was selected late in the season as an alternate to the Pro Bowl (as he was in 2011), and when Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach had to cancel his trip to the game in Hawaii – because the Ravens are in the Super Bowl – Reece got the invitation he was hoping for.
On Sunday, he’ll play in his first Pro Bowl.
“He’s a football player and he just makes football plays over and over again, every week,” Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said of Reece in November. “You feel like you can’t get the guy the ball enough. … Marcel’s special.”
As the Raiders start to work toward next year with a new offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, it will be interesting to see how the team uses Reece. Olson inherits an offense that has some skilled position players in Palmer, McFadden, Reece, tight end Brandon Myers and wide receiver Denarius Moore.
Reece has shown tremendous versatility as a strong inside runner and a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. ProFootballFocus reported after the season that Reece – who caught more passes than any other fullback in the league – picked up 347 of his 496 receiving yards after making the catch.
Now established, Reece may be a key piece of the Raiders offense for many seasons to come.