In this series, I’ll be taking a look at several rookies with an average draft position (ADP) in the 4th round or later in rookie drafts based on the multiple real-life and mocks drafts I’ve been in this off-season. I’ll do my best to break down why I believe they’re a tremendous value at their current ADPs and why they’ll have an opportunity to outperform players drafted ahead of them.
Aside from all of the known names that are going early in rookie fantasy drafts, my favorite player in this class is Jaylen Samuels of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This might sound crazy, but I think Samuels is the future of the NFL. Seriously. He is the most versatile player in this draft, and I don’t think it is particularly close. To give a little context; in 64 years of the ACC existences, they never had an official all-conference award for an all-purpose back. The conference created an all-purpose back all-conference position specifically to reward Samuels’ versatility.
Back to why I think he is the future of the NFL. The league is going more and more towards the trend of versatile players- on both sides of the ball. You’re seeing teams use players create matchup nightmares based on diverse skill sets. Specifically, receiving backs and big slot receivers that are too big for corners to defend and too fast for linebackers to cover. As a result, you’re seeing defenses deploy more big nickel packages with a hybrid linebacker/cornerbacks. The game is changing, and Samuels may be the type of player to push the league over the edge. In reaction to these potential changes, we see teams favoring smaller, faster linebackers, and safeties who can play linebacker.
Samuels can play running back, fullback, tight end and slot receiver- and can play each of them well. I have no doubt he could play out wide in certain circumstances as well. How do you defend him, especially with Pittsburgh’s other weapons? At least early in the season, he’ll be the least focused on player in the Steelers’ offense by opposing defenses. They’ll need to worry about AB and Juju and Bell.
Assuming none of them draw a double team from opposing defenses, when Samuels is on the field, he’ll be looking at no worse than an opposing teams’ fourth-best defender. If he’s in the slot, Brown and Smith-Schuster will draw the top two corners. In a two-back set, Bell will draw the opposing teams best linebacker in coverage. If he lines up at tight end, he should have no problem beating the opposing team’s strongside linebacker with his route running and athleticism.
This highlight reel of Samuels is obviously designed to paint him in a positive light, as all highlight reels are, but it’s hard to watch this and not come away impressed with, well, everything.
Brandon Hall wrote a great pre-draft profile on Samuels that goes into more depth on him as a player. Early in his NFL career, the hyperbole is flowing out of Steelers’ camp. Rumors have even been floated that Samuels may be their short-yardage back and red zone receiving threat. Do I think he’ll steal touches from Le’Veon Bell? No, at least not right away. But, with Bell not being able to reach a long-term deal in the Steel City, having to play another year on the franchise tag he may hold out of camp again. If he does, the coaches will get more and more looks at the rookie in Bell’s absence.
It’s probably unlikely, but both Pat Kirwan & Adam Schefter have speculated that there is a possibility Bell sits out the first half of the season. That leaves a ton of touches up for grabs if it comes to fruition. As is, Daryl Jaquette of Fansided thinks Samuels is in line for 10-15 touches per game and given his playmaking ability- especially after the catch- he can be usable for fantasy in 2018 with or without Bell. Maybe most importantly of all, Head Coach Mike Tomlin was singing his praises as a receiver following spring practices and rookie camp.
Samuels’ playerprofiler page shows him with slightly above average metrics. Which isn’t very inspiring, but at the very least it’s better than having slightly below average metrics. Combining above average metrics with a history of production across several positions could be the makings of a special player. However, metrics aren’t everything. There is no denying Samuels is a legit “football player” for lack of a better term.
Looking at his mockdraftable metrics, Samuels draws some interesting player comps based off of measurables. As a tight end, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed are comps. As a running back, Eddie Lacy and Larry Johnson pop up. That’s a fascinating combination of players if he can harness a little bit of each of them.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein gives a more detailed scouting breakdown in Samuels’ NFL Draft and Combine Profile. And Dane Brugler provides some news and notes on Samuels over the last year or so at Draftscout.com.
You can only see the words “weapon, versatile, all-purpose, and do it all” so much before they start to paint a picture of a unique talent. In the past, this has possibly meant that a player was a tweener due to size or had no true natural position. Sometimes it meant they just weren’t good enough at one spot to obtain and keep a specific role in the NFL. But times are changing, and a player like Jaylen Samuels might just be the player to break the mold of what we think we thought we knew about versatility.