Former NFL Veteran and Iowa standout Matt Bowen told me this week that the ultimate compliment any football player can receive from a fellow player or coach is to be called “tough”. I find that to be concrete truth. In my opinion, one of the next best things a player can be labeled as is “versatile”.

Marcel ReeceUS PRESSWIRERaiders' RB Marcel Reece.

Although he’s not a household name just yet, Oakland’s Jack-Of-All-Trades Marcel Reece is on track to catch the label of “tough” and “versatile” from teammates, opponents, and coaches throughout the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl last season, and yet many fans across the country have never heard of him. He wears many hats for the Raiders, and for the second straight week he’ll be in the role of starting Running back against the New Orleans Saints.

He’s already being compared to guys like Keith Byars and Larry Centers for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, carry it with effectiveness, and to be a solid pass protector as well. Centers played 14 seasons in the NFL, and had over 1,400 carries and catches as a Fullback and Runningback. He was also a perennial Pro Bowler due to his versatility. Byars played 13 seasons in the NFL, and had over 1,400 carries and catches as a Fullback and Tightend. He also threw 6 touchdown passes in his career.

The one additional element that Reece brings to the table is his ability to get open downfield as a true route runner.  He learned that skill while in college, because he was a standout receiver.

He’s a perfect example of how flawed the NFL scouting system can be. He put up solid numbers in junior college, before transferring to the University of Washington. Billed as the nation’s biggest receiver, the Huskies listed him at 6’3, 240 lbs.

Although they gifted him about two inches in height, his production on the football field was legitimate as a senior: 39 catches, 761 yards (19.5 p/catch), and 8 TD’s. Equally as impressive as his on-field production was the fact that he ran 4.40 in the 40 on his pro day, at 240 lbs. Amazingly, this guy went UNDRAFTED. He caught the classic scouting label as a “tweener”, allegedly too big to play receiver yet too short to be a tight end.

The Dolphins picked him up in 2008 as rookie street free agent, and promptly cut him. He then landed with the Raiders, and found a home. He’s played Fullback, Runningback, Tightend, and a variety of roles on special teams since then, and continues to impress his opponents in the NFL each and every week.

Raiders QB Carson Palmer has talked about how solid Reece has become as a pass protector, and yet he’s a guy that can run a post-corner route and be a mismatch versus any safety or linebacker in the league. He’s a “match-up nightmare” for most defenses according to Palmer. Against the Saints, he’s going to be asked to carry the load as the Runningback, and attempt to get the Raiders ground game back on track.

It remains to be seen as to whether he’ll have a career like Centers and Byars in terms of carries and catches, but what is clear is that the Raiders have a keeper in one of the NFL’s most versatile contributors. It was wise of them to sign him to a contract extension in September.

Follow Warren on Twitter: @mpifradio