Pittsburgh Steelers rookie fifth-round running back Jaylen Samuels has seesawed on and off people’s 53-man roster predictions so far this preseason, but I think the pendulum swung far more toward his favor thanks to tonight’s showing in the second half of the team’s victory over the Tennessee Titans in the third preseason game.
The NC State product got his most extensive work of the preseason—at least in terms of touches, carrying the ball 11 times for 41 yards in a showing that was more impressive than its efficiency would indicate, capped by a 18-yard run.
Even more significant is what he was able to contribute in the passing game, which would necessarily be a major area of contribution for him. Though drafted as a running back, he was actually primarily a slot receiver in college based on usage. The Steelers even used him at times in passing situations during offseason practices in that role.
Tonight, he added four receptions for 36 yards, on which he consistently displayed a good feel for not only where he was on the field but of the in-game scenario, perhaps most exemplified by an 11-yard reception for a catch-and-run on third and 10.
In all, he combined for 77 yards and 15 touches on the night, leading all skill position players for the game in total yardage. James Conner’s 16 total touches did better his, but Samuels was more efficient in his opportunities despite having a lower percentage of passes.
The running was pretty hard on the night for the Steelers against a quality Titans defensive front, overall. In fact, both defenses played the run quite well. The Steelers only achieved 2.5 rushing yards per carry, while the Titans were only able to gain 2.1 yards per carry.
Samuels’ performance should be considered even more impressive in light of the overall body of defensive work in that regard. And when you watch him run, he makes a surprising number of tacklers miss. Even on a short-yardage carry, he avoided a tackle three yards in the backfield, only to be stopped for no gain by two other defenders.
Mike Tomlin had the following to say about Samuels after the game:
“He’s growing like a lot of young guys should and he’s probably one of the ones I’m talking about when I’m encouraging guys to lean in. It’s been a hard fight, it’s been a tiresome fight at times for young players, but I don’t want to see anybody let up as the road gets narrow. We need to have the type of guys that display the grit, that can lean in and fight to the finish and he’ll be given the opportunity to do that”.
As I pointed out earlier this week, the reason that I was growing confident the Steelers intended to keep him on the roster is because they gave him an extensive amount of work on special teams, seeing 25 snaps as a four-phase player over the course of the first two preseason games.
To be honest, I didn’t have the opportunity to really observe how much work he might have gotten on special teams in this game. That will have to come later upon further evaluation. But he didn’t have to show up in that phase tonight. What he did on offense is what the Steelers were hoping that would see, and he took an important step forward in securing a roster spot.