The Pittsburgh Steelers are well-known for their ability to develop wide receivers. That centers around Antonio Brown, an unknown sixth round pick who transformed himself into the best one today and a slam-dunk, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Marcus Tucker is never going to be the next AB or anything close to resembling him. But 2018 could be his first good shot to make the 53 man roster.
Tucker, similar to Brown, was a total unknown. Even more irrelevant than Brown’s sixth round selection. Brown had NFL interest, a Combine invite. No such luck for Tucker. No Combine, very little interest, and as he told me back in 2016, the Steelers were the only team to call his agent, and even then, they initially said no, only bringing him as a tryout player when someone else got injured.
Tryout players have nearly impossible odds but Tucker beat them, playing his way onto the 90 man roster. Mike Tomlin, on Mother’s Day, personally phoned his mother to tell Tucker, who didn’t know until that moment, he made the squad.
But all of that is feel-good and most certainly in the past. Tucker’s been able to stick around on the team’s practice squad for the past two seasons, never getting called up to the 53, but always showing well in the preseason. He’s got versatility, mostly playing on the outside but a little in the slot, and got a look on kick returns in camp and the preseason, returning two of them for an average of 25 yards.
Previously, excellent depth at the position made Tucker’s chance to make the 53 or ascend there mid-season pretty much impossible. This year? Could be a little different. Only three receivers are currently locks to make the Week One roster: Brown, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Darrius Heyward-Bey is the vet and there’s good reason to keep him around but there’s no guarantees at this point in his career. Eli Rogers is still on the mend and Pittsburgh, so far, haven’t brought in any receiver, though that could definitely change during the draft.
Even if they draft one, the #5 WR spot is going to be up for grabs. That’s Tucker’s spot to making the team as a versatile piece with return capability who can take DHB’s spot as a gunner (he did well in that role last preseason). He doesn’t have elite physical tools but has shown YAC ability and plus body control along the sidelines.
Most players are working hard in the offseason so this is damning with faint praise but Tucker has been back home in Michigan, working out nearly every single day. Tomlin’s philosophy is being available, being highly conditioned, two requirements for surviving a grueling Latrobe summer. There’s no doubt in my mind Tucker will have those boxes checked when he reports.
He’s been counted out before. Heck, he probably shouldn’t even be where he’s at, traveling from literally the bottom of the roster to sticking around longer than most others he came in with. If there’s a time for Tucker to make a move, it’s 2018.