Was there any doubt? All-American running back Sean Tucker wraps up our list with four days until the season opener, and for reasons that laude his statistical success and beyond. The Maryland native shocked the world last year by rushing for other worldly numbers. During the 2021 season, RB1 ran for over 100 yards in nine of Syracuse’s 12 games. That was quite the stark difference after he eclipsed the century mark only three out of the nine games in 2020. But the stats only improved from there.
Tucker’s 1,496 yards (led the ACC) on the ground marked an SU single-season high, even with the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka sporting an Orange uniform in the past. In fact, Syracuse’s sophomore back joined those names as the only tailbacks in school history to earn first-team All-America recognition by one of the five NCAA-recognized selectors. A feat that had many calling for Tucker to change his number ’34’ to the famed ’44’, worn by Brown and Davis and currently hanging in the rafters.
Plus, the third-year running threat also has a keen eye for picking the ball out of the air, catching 20 passes for over 250 yards last season. This is all to say Tucker is far from a one-trick pony and most importantly, knows how to create a name for himself while simultaneously ramping up his image. It’s both necessary to note his importance in the backfield and on the Central New York community. The unexpected hype around a player that didn’t even land on the depth chart heading into the 2020 season will most likely draw eyes to this SU team that otherwise wouldn’t be warranted. In fact, it’s not a farfetched claim to say that over half the fans that pack the Dome on Saturday are in attendance to watch Tucker alone.
WHY SYRACUSE NEEDS HIM
There are plenty of obvious instances as to why the Orange need their star running back. First, Tucker is a once-in-a-generation type talent in terms of his ability to cut back, find holes past the line of scrimmage, and turn on his secondary speed, while also controlling his feet on hard-nosed runs. This allowed the Maryland native to break out for 58% of SU’s rushing yards last season, and over a third of their total touchdowns. The ‘Cuse needed all of that yardage to lead the conference in rush yards per game, and all the points to even salvage a 5-7 year. Plus, the national recognition he received revitalized the Orange’s fanbase and warranted a large crowd in Syracuse’s do-or-die season finale with Pitt last year.
It’s also worth noting that Tucker willed SU to a majority of its wins. With such a potent running attack came a belittled aerial presence. Syracuse sat dead last in the ACC in pass yards per game, large in part due to opponent pressure on the Orange’s depleted offensive line. So without Tucker a season ago, who knows how bad SU’s offense would have been, and how bad they would have looked. Along the aforementioned offensive line point, the rushing game looked so good because of Tucker’s ability, so without number 34, the O-line would have received even more flack.
Syracuse’s future rests on the shoulders of the best running back in the northeast, it’s that simple. Tucker is the least expendable on this SU roster and it’s not even close. In other words, it is a no doubter that the Orange need their best back in their everyday offensive set.
BEST CASE SCENARIO
Last season marked the most dominant individual single-season rushing performance in Syracuse football history. After Tucker finished sixth in all of division one in total rush yards, the cop out answer is “just do it again or better.” And although that is true, there’s another aspect of the sophomore’s game that could make Tucker even more unstoppable than last year. If the star running back can play a bigger role in the passing game, that’s the best case scenario.
The carries and yards will come, especially because freshman LeQuint Allen is backing SU’s number one weapon, which proves even more that barring any setback on Tucker’s end, he’ll receive a vast majority of the reps. But after recording 255 yards in the air in 2021, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and it’s a system with a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach that’ll want to prioritize a mix of aerial and ground-and-pound attacks. This relates to check downs as well as catches in the flat, where RB1 can bounce off a block and move the chains with his legs after hauling in a short pass.
Even with Heisman Trophy consideration surrounding Tucker this season, his keen ability to move the chains and do so both with his legs and off the catch will evolve his game and ultimately convert him from a stud running back to a two-dimensional weapon.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Although Tucker is in his third season with the Orange, he is athletically listed as a sophomore, which opens up the conversation of a possible sophomore slump. The worst case scenario is either last season was a fluke, or defenses realize the Preseason All-American is SU’s only explosive player and hone in on him, rendering Tucker immobile most of the season. This is not to say Tucker has not grown as a player, rather it is pointing out the advantage opposing defenses have because of the tape they can compile from last season. If the Maryland native bogs down expectations and just plays his game, then he and the Orange are fine in terms of his level of production.
Another possible bad outcome revolves around Tucker’s longevity. Toward the end of last season, ‘Cuse’s top back went from the most yards in division one to underperforming in the final three games. It’s not a farfetched claim to credit that to fatigue. Hopefully the Orange’s new offensive scheme allows for a more balanced attack, but with a freshman behind SU’s single season rushing record holder, Tucker taking part in over 90% of the snaps could play a part in early- to mid-November.
That rounds out our list of the top ten most important SU football players for the 2022 season. Make sure to check out who the other nine players are below!
Sunday, August 21- #10 Courtney Jackson
Monday, August 22- #9 Marlowe Wax
Tuesday, August 23- #8 Chris Elmore
Wednesday, August 24- #7 Duce Chestnut
Thursday, August 25- #6 Matthew Bergeron
Friday, August 26- #5 Damien Alford
Saturday, August 27- #4 Garrett Williams
Sunday, August 28- #3 Mikel Jones
Monday, August 29- #2 Garrett Shrader
Tuesday, August 30- #1 Sean Tucker