Marcel Reece – a beloved member of the Oakland Raiders was recently released – an intriguing talent, who never made any sense.
Versatility is a funny concept. Conventional wisdom holds it as a trait to be valued highly; everybody wants to be good at more than one thing, and everybody covets people and things that are useful in more than one situation.
A diverse skill set can make you more attractive to potential employers. Women want a guy sensitive enough to shed a tear during The Fault In Our Stars, but game enough to knock a dude out at a bar if need be.
At the same time, versatility can be a detriment. Being adept in too many areas can foster a lack of focus, or indecision as to what to devote yourself to. Dividing attention between three fields and producing average results in all three is usually a less-desired outcome than putting all energies and efforts into being great in one.
And in a society insistent on categories and definitions for everything and everyone, failure to commit to one lane can lead to time on the shoulder with your hazard lights on, everyone passing you by on the highway of life.
In that regard, Marcel Reece has had perhaps the strangest career of any man to ever lace up cleats and set foot on an NFL field.
Reece came into the league eight years ago out of the University of Washington, a six-foot, two hundred and thirty-pound receiver with 4.4 speed. He found himself undrafted, largely because teams simply had no idea what to do with him.
After being cut by the Miami Dolphins in 2008, Al Davis, notoriously more enamored with speed than Mike Schmidt in the 70s, signed Reece to the Raiders. But the same conundrum persisted — Marcel was deemed too stout to be a receiver, too small to be a tight end.
The answer somehow became playing him at fullback, a position that was already in the process of becoming obsolete within the league.
Yet and still, after a couple of years on the practice squad, Reece found a way to shine in the role, if only intermittently. A capable blocker and legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, Marcel made a name for himself as the Raiders’ offensive Swiss Army Knife, a trusty, reliable constant in a stream of moving parts and heavy roster turnover.
It didn’t take long for Reece to emerge as a team leader and fan favorite, displaying a passion and fire for donning the Silver and Black that endeared him to the Nation, even as his role and tangible production on the field was spotty and seemingly random.
In fact, to this day, his value (or lack thereof) to the team is a source of intense debate. Was he under-utilized as a player? Probably. Was he overrated as a weapon? Probably. Were his four Pro Bowl elections the result of true excellence at his position, or a fringe benefit of being the most notable name at a virtually-defunct position? Yes.
In many ways, Marcel Reece was personification of the old joke about embellishing your knowledge of Microsoft Excel on a resume. On paper, he was a jack of all trades, the tweener’s tweener, and that kept him employed for a long time.
But whether he was actually better-than-average at any of those things is and remains a mystery.
Marcel’s career rushing stats amount to a season’s worth of work for a below-average running back, and about two year’s worth for an above-average receiver. That’s not exactly his fault, but it’s also hard to believe that not one of the slew of offensive coordinators to have come and gone in Oakland over the past decade could find much use for him.
If anything, he was probably more valued for creating nightmare match-ups for defenses on Madden than anything else. I torched many a secondary with Reece in two tight-end sets.
True to form, even Reece’s release is a case study in duality. It’s tough for many fans to see a favorite go, and certainly surprising at this point in the season, as it was assumed the Raiders were holding a roster spot for his eventual return from a four-game suspension.
But in an offense rife with weapons at every position, the lack of need for Reece to touch the football, or even be on the team can only really be argued as a positive. Where the cupboard was once bare, there are now a wealth of options.
As one of the last-standing personnel moves of Al Davis’ managerial reign, Marcel Reece is the perfect exemplifier of the yin and yang of Al’s vision, the ideology that made him and the Raiders great early on, and what held the team back in later years — an eye to for talent without the imagination to properly employ it.
Reece certainly was (and probably still is) a very talented player, and maybe some team will find a way to exercise his full potential — just check out what former Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor is doing in Cleveland as a receiver, or how the Steelers have turned first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey’s label as a bust into that of a player that can affect games in a positive way as a special teams ace.
In the meantime, with undrafted guys like Jalen Richard and Darius Latham emerging into legitimate contributors with this year’s team, it feels amazing to see hand-picked talent flourish within our organization, and only strengthens the faith I have in the front office to finally field a winner in Oakland.
Marcel’s release is a reminder, however sobering, that the path to victory is narrow and demands a high level of focus. Everyone has a defined job and role in the attainment of that goal. But definitions never really fit Marcel Reece. His versatility used to be a good problem for the Raiders to have.
In 2016, ironically enough, the Raiders’ versatility is what made Marcel’s expendable.