One would expect this to be Sean Tucker’s last season at Syracuse. Last year, he was SU’s most important player, setting the single-season rushing record. He led the NCAA in yards after contact. He was first team all-ACC and a Maxwell Award Finalist. Coming into 2022, everyone knows what to expect from the Orange’s junior starting running back. He should dominate ACC competition and secure his draft stock as a second-third round pick.
However, experts around the NFL don’t feel as if Tucker has impressed as much as many around Central New York. Three weeks ago, the Athletic’s draft guru Dane Brugler ranked Tucker fifth among 2023 NFL running back prospects, behind Texas’ Bijan Robinson, Ole Miss’ Zach Evans, Texas A&M’s Devon Achane and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs (transfer from Georgia Tech). Brugler wrote,
Some might pigeonhole Tucker as a power back, between the way his sculpted-yet-compact frame fills out his uniform and the fact that his 1,014 rushing yards after contact last season led all returning FBS players. But, when you watch his film, Tucker’s acceleration to speed through holes and away from pursuit is what gets your attention. He even joined Syracuse’s indoor track team, after a productive track career in high school — he qualified for the Junior Olympics and won back-to-back Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association titles in the 55-meter dasNot only does Tucker have the size, strength and speed, but I was also impressed by his instincts at the line of scrimmage. On this 51-yard touchdown scamper against Boston College, he shows off his run tempo and patience to find the hole and then hit the turbo button.
Must improve: Pass blocking
For a player with his physique and run strength, I expected a better pass blocker. But Tucker graded below average in that area on the five tapes I studied, most notably vs. Pittsburgh in the 2021 season finale. His punch isn’t heavy, his chips are often ineffective, and he must improve his communication and angles to keep defenders blocked.Dane Brugler, The Athletic
Tucker wasn’t always asked to pass block. The Orange RBs don’t exact do a lot of work out of the backfield, but at one point last season, Tucker was Syracuse’s leading receiver! Don’t expect to see Tucker in on every third down this season, as both Juwaun Price and LeQuint Allen profile as better third-down backs than Tucker, but he should still see a bulk of snaps there late in games. Tucker will absolutely be asked to pass block at the NFL level. Hopefully, Robert Anae’s offense sets Tucker up with better protections and opportunities.
ESPN’s Matt Miller picked Tucker as the best 2023 draft prospect on the Orange. Miller wrote,
With 12 touchdowns and 1,496 yards last season, Tucker emerged as one of the best backs in the nation. Now, the 5-foot-10, 209-pounder has a shot at the NFL with his vision and contact balance ready-made for Sundays. He has an early Day 3 grade.Matt Miller, ESPN
This time, no points for improvement, but still a vast underestimation of Tucker’s value. Tucker is not a fourth-round talent.
Both Brugler and Miller short Tucker for various reasons. The main one, not stated, is that the others have more hype around them (Tucker doesn’t play in the South). Brugler ranks four backs ahead of Tucker who were rated higher out of high school, face tougher defenses and therefore have more “meaningful” numbers. Zach Evans, #2 on Brugler’s list, only has one year of starting experience on a middling Big 12 offense (he ran for 648 yards last year). Big whoop.
Tucker still has doubters to prove wrong. This year they’re coming from the NFL level.