Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece will be the Oakland Raiders‘ most important offensive player in the 2013 season.
While it might not look like a good omen for any NFL offense that a fullback is their best player, Reece has that much talent. There is no question that running back Darren McFadden is by far the most talented player on the Raiders offense, but he has yet to stay healthy for a whole season. With unproven backup running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, it will be up to Reece to single-handedly improve those positions.
Reece has proved over the last few seasons that he is one of the most versatile fullbacks to ever play the game. Not only can he open up holes for running backs, but the former college wide receiver has all pro-caliber hands out of the backfield.
Last season, Reece even ran for over 100 yards in spot duty at running back. The Raiders will primarily rely on Reece to have another Pro Bowl year at fullback, but he will also line up at other positions.
In an ideal world, the Raiders offense would rely on McFadden, Rashad Jennings and rookie Latavius Murray to carry the ball all season long. However, McFadden always falls prey to injuries, and he has yet to play a full season.
Jennings has proven nothing over the last couple of seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and would not be effective as a starter. Murray has all the size and speed to be a star in this league but he is also very raw. It would take Murray a couple of years to be counted on as a true no. 2 running back. Expect Reece to get many carries as a running back this season to take the pressure off of “McFragile”.
All three projected starting wide receivers for the Raiders have went down with injuries during their careers in the silver and black. Although Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Jacoby Ford make up one of the most explosive receiving corps in the NFL, they are also some of the most unproven.
The new offensive coordinator should line up the former wide receiver out in the slot for a few series each game. Reece has proven that he has great hands and can be a weapon in the passing game.
With the departure of Brandon Myers in free agency, the Raiders’ tight end position is the team’s biggest question mark heading into the season. Converted wide receiver David Ausberry looks like the favorite heading into training camp, but he has yet to show that he can be an effective run blocker. Although Ausberry could realistically put up similar numbers to Myers last season, his lack of blocking skill would keep him off the field.
Rookie Mychal Rivera is probably the most well-rounded tight end for the Raiders, but he also is not great at any particular skill. Richard Gordon and rookie Nick Kasa are both studs in the run game, but are limited in receiving.
With the unproven Matt Flynn likely to start the season at quarterback, having a security blanket for him is essential. Expect Reece to get targeted as much as a prototypical tight end in the passing game this year. Reece will essentially help carry the load in the passing game for the other tight ends.
Although Reece made the Pro Bowl last season, expect 2013 to be his best season as an Oakland Raider.
Jorge Contreras is an Oakland Raiders writer for RantSports.com. Follow Jorge on Twitter @jraycontreras