Martin Rucker finally knows where he will play next year.
Rucker, one of Missouri’s two standout tight ends, said Thursday he has withdrawn his name from consideration for the 2007 NFL Draft and will return to play his senior season with the Tigers. After the Sun Bowl, he said that he would leave for the NFL if he was projected to be drafted in the first or second round.
Members of the NFL Advisory Committee called Rucker on Wednesday and told him they projected him as a fifth-round selection.
“I didn’t think that I would be second round or first,” Rucker said Thursday in a phone interview. “I just kind of threw my feelers out there to see how much improvement I really needed. It worked out for the best both ways. I get to come back and get my degree, and I also know what I need to improve on and how much I need to improve to get where I want to be.”
Rucker said it was an easy decision to come back for his senior year because there was no need to weigh his options.
“I think it is in my definite best interest to stay for next year,” he said.
Mel Kiper Jr., an NFL Draft analyst for ESPN, said that this year would not be a good draft for tight ends. Kiper said he would not project where Rucker would have been selected.
“It’s impossible to determine that, because the combine workout for juniors is critical because you don’t have any accurate measurables on underclassmen until the combine,” Kiper said. “I have an idea in my mind where I thought he would have gone, but since he’s going back, that is a moot point.”
Kiper said junior tight ends Zach Miller (Arizona State) and Greg Olsen (Miami) are taking advantage of the weak tight end pool in the draft by leaving early and that could help Rucker’s draft status in 2008.
“Now that Miller and Olsen left, Rucker is right there at the top,” Kiper said about tight ends in 2008 NFL Draft.
Kiper predicated Miller and Olsen to be the top tight ends in this year’s draft, but said no tight ends would be drafted in the first round.
Rucker said he was aware of possibly having better chances next year.
“That nothing but helps me because those guys will be out of the way next year,” Rucker said of Miller and Olsen’s early departures.
Another reason Rucker said he wanted to stay, besides his draft prospects, is the future of Missouri football.
“We have some business to take care of next year, and I want to be a part of what I believe can be a special season,” Rucker said.
Missouri returns nine of its offensive starters from the Sun Bowl, including quarterback Chase Daniel, running back Tony Temple and fellow tight end Chase Coffman. The returning Tigers on offense account for 5,414 of the team’s school-record 5,533 offensive yards, or 97.9 percent of the offense.
“The sky is the limit,” Rucker said about the offense next season. “When this offense is clicking, there nobody that can stop us.”
Rucker had 53 catches for 511 yards, including five touchdowns, for Missouri this season. He is also the Tigers’ career leader in catches (119) and receiving yards (1,341) for tight ends.
Rucker’s brother, Mike Rucker, plays in the NFL as a defensive end with the Carolina Panthers. He was drafted by the Panthers in the second round of the draft in 1999.
The NFL Draft is on April 28 and 29 in New York.