2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Sean Tucker (Fantasy Football)
One of the strengths of the 2023 class is the running back position as it presents both upside and depth for dynasty managers. While the most coveted prospect is rightfully Bijan Robinson, there are multiple running backs in this class that have the upside to be impactful starters at the next level. One of those players is Sean Tucker, who has been the RB1 for the Syracuse Orange since his true freshman season. With an elite production profile and the potential to be a day-two pick, Tucker is one of my favorite prospects entering the NFL Draft.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
College Production Profile
While he is one of the more polarizing prospects, Sean Tucker’s production profile is one of the best in this class. Starting with his true freshman season, he was an immediate contributor for Syracuse, totaling over 700 scrimmage yards and averaging an impressive 1.41 Yards per Team Play. He accounted for nearly 30% of the team’s entire offensive production, which gives Tucker one of the earliest breakout ages in this class at 18 years old. While an early breakout can set a running back apart, we also want to see progression in the following years.
And needless to say, Tucker did not disappoint in his sophomore campaign. He averaged an absurd 145.9 scrimmage yards per game, eclipsing the elite threshold of 2.00 Yards per Team Play. Even more impressive, he averaged a 39.2% Weighted Dominator Rating, operating as the focal point for Syracuse in his second season. In addition, it was also encouraging to see him double his receiving yards market share (13.9%), signaling that he is more than capable of being a contributor as a receiver. To put his elite early-career production into perspective, since 2013, listed below are all early-declare running backs drafted in the first three rounds who averaged at least +1.00 Yards per Team Play as a true freshman and +2.00 Yards per Team Play as a true Sophomore:
Depending on when Tucker is selected in this year’s draft, he could be the next running back (along with Bijan Robinson) to join this outstanding list.
Despite his impressive sophomore campaign, one of the perceived negatives in his profile is the decline in his junior season. However, I would argue that he still dominated despite failing to exceed his sophomore numbers. In fact, the average top-24 fantasy running back in the NFL averaged roughly 1.68 Yards per Team Play in their 3rd collegiate season. In other words, even if we adjust for experience, Tucker still exceeded that threshold with 1.80 Yards per Team Play. He simply set the bar extremely high in 2021.
In short, Tucker is one of the most accomplished running backs entering the NFL draft. He ranks 3rd in this talented class in career Yards per Team Play (1.87) and 2nd in Weighted Dominator Rating (33.6%). And assuming he receives day one or two capital, he should be one of the best values in this year’s dynasty rookie drafts.
4.27 – 4.29*
*High School Athletic Testing
If his production profile was not impressive enough, Tucker might open some eyes at the NFL combine. As a former track athlete, he should be one of the most explosive running backs in this class. Per Chris Carlson at Syracuse, Tucker’s 40-yard dash was recorded at 4.27 and 4.29 in high school during his track and field season. Keep in mind, this was when he was still at 190 lbs before his collegiate career. Since then, Tucker has bulked up to roughly 210 lbs, which will likely affect his 40-time at the combine.
However, this should still give us a glimpse of his intriguing athletic profile. If he can somehow hit the 4.30 mark at 210 pounds, that would equate to a 98th percentile weight-adjusted speed score of 122.9. To put that into perspective, Jonathan Taylor and Antonio Gibson had similar scores entering the NFL. Hypothetically, if Tucker comes in significantly slower than his high school time at around 4.40, that would still equate to an 88th percentile speed score at 112.1, similar to Ezekiel Elliott and D’Onta Foreman. In other words, assuming he can come anywhere close to his high school numbers, Tucker would rank among some of the most elite running backs.
What’s on Tape
As part of my prospect evaluation, I watch anywhere between four to six games of film to gain a better understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Below are my observations on Sean Tucker’s film.
Games Viewed: 2022 vs Wake Forest, 2022 vs Boston College, 2022 vs Louisville, 2021 vs Liberty, 2021 vs Clemson
1. Elite Acceleration & Breakaway Speed
As I mentioned above, Tucker was a track athlete in high school, which is clearly evident when you watch any of his games at Syracuse. He possesses elite acceleration that allows him to switch gears in a split second, often putting defenders at a disadvantage. And once he gets beyond the first level of the defense, he has the breakaway speed to outpace most defensive backs and linebackers in the open field. In other words, if there is even a slight opening in the defense, Tucker has the athletic ability to exploit that opportunity and generate a big play.
In the clip below, we see some of Tucker’s explosiveness against the 7th-ranked Clemson rush defense in 2021. As soon as he identifies the opening, his acceleration immediately forces a pair of missed tackles. Tucker then changes direction to force the cornerback to readjust his angle, allowing him to run all the way to the five-yard line before being tackled.
2. Broken and Missed Tackles
In my five-game sample size, Tucker generated plenty of missed tackles in a variety of areas on the field – breaking a tackle on 30% of his rush attempts. Using his timely speed variation and elite acceleration, he often made it difficult for linebackers and defensive backs to find the optimal angle to bring him down. Coupled with his lower body strength, Tucker has the ability to evade defenders in multiple ways. He also has surprisingly quick feet for someone his size. Even in tight lanes, he would find a way to sidestep through traffic to generate positive yardage. We see some of these traits in the clip below against Louisville. Backed up into their own end zone, Tucker evades multiple defenders on his way to a tough first down.
3. Patience at the Line of Scrimmage
Sean Tucker’s patience in the backfield pairs perfectly with his elite athletic ability, allowing him to maximize his rushing opportunities. Especially on zone runs, Tucker does an outstanding job of following his blockers and waiting for the right moment to explode into the open field. He also displayed adequate decision-making in his film, often identifying the broken play and pivoting if his offensive line broke down. In fact, Tucker loves to bounce to the outside if the middle of the field is unavailable, using his elite acceleration to bend the corner for positive yardage.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Diverse Usage as a Receiver
While Tucker’s career receiving yards market share numbers were certainly above average, his route tree was rather limited in his time at Syracuse. Unlike Jahmyr Gibbs – who is likely the best receiver in this running back class – Tucker was rarely given the opportunity to line up in the slot or out wide as he ran most of his routes out of the backfield in my five-game sample size. In fact, the majority of his targets came on flat routes, relying primarily on his “after the catch” ability to generate yardage. Occasionally, Syracuse would get him involved in the screen game, which – as you can see in the clip below – was mostly effective due to his ability to accelerate in the open field.
2. Consistent Success as a Blocker
This is by far Tucker’s biggest weakness as he was fairly inconsistent as a blocker. Especially in his film against a talented Clemson defense, he would either miss his blocking assignment or would not adjust quickly enough to prevent the pass rush from pressuring his quarterback. And while there are a handful of examples in which he did succeed as a blocker, Tucker will need to be more consistent to be a viable three-down option at the next level. If this ultimately prevents him from gaining opportunities as a receiver on third downs, his upside may be limited in PPR leagues.
2023 Fantasy and Dynasty Outlook
In short, Tucker checks a lot of the boxes that we look for in a running back prospect. And assuming his athletic ability translates at the next level, he could be the perfect fit for a team like the Miami Dolphins or Atlanta Falcons – two offenses who could use additional depth and playmaking at the running back position. The biggest concern for Tucker is draft capital as multiple sites currently have him projected anywhere between the second and fourth rounds. I would not be surprised, however, if his ADP improves drastically after he crushes the NFL combine.
Naturally, if he slips into “day three” territory, his likelihood of succeeding drops significantly based on historical data. However, if he does get selected in the second or third rounds, there are very few running backs that have the athletic ability and production profile of Tucker. In fact, there are only three running backs drafted since 2013 to meet the following thresholds:
- Day Two Capital (Rounds 2 or 3)
- Early Declare
- +1.70 Career Yards per Team Play
- +104 Weight Adjusted Speed Score (average for a top 24 fantasy RB)
Those three running backs are:
Pending his combine results and draft capital, Sean Tucker could be the next running back to join this short but impressive list. Therefore, while all eyes are on Jahmyr Gibbs and Bijan Robinson, do not forget about Sean Tucker in what is shaping up to be a very talented 2023 running back class.