Arguably one of the most unexpected things that we have seen this season has been the emerging contributions of rookie running back Jaylen Samuels, the Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State who has talked openly about the fact that he is working to transition into a “true runner”.
Even after Le’Veon Bell didn’t show up, he still started the season third on the depth chart behind James Conner and Stevan Ridley. But he worked his way up to the backup role and with Conner missing the past two games due to an ankle injury got a chance to start some games, and he put up over 250 yards of offense in those 120 minutes.
While acknowledging that his game is far from complete yet, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger earlier today during his locker room media availability talked about all the good that he and the team have seen from Samuels this season, even going back to the spring.
“One of the first things that we noticed about him is that he’s got really good hands. Soft hands. You can kind of throw it all over the place and he can make plays”, he told reporters. “I think he showed that this week. We put him out there and did some things that hopefully we’re just scratching the surface with him”.
He only caught two passes on Sunday in a win over the New England Patriots, but he got 30 yards out of them. Both were nice plays before and after the catch from the rookie. He also had 64 receiving yards on seven receptions the week prior to that, and has two receiving touchdowns on the year.
But while they already knew that he should be able to catch the football at this level—that was the area in which he excelled in college—they also saw him running the football very well against the Patriots, to the tune of 142 yards on 19 carries.
Roethlisberger was asked about what he saw from that area of his game that he felt was different from when he first came to Pittsburgh. “I thought he showed good patience. I thought when it was there he hit it hard. He protected the ball”, he said. “Those are the things that you want from a guy that isn’t used to carrying it as much as maybe he’s going to have to or did”.
With Conner hopefully expected to return for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, Samuels should not expect to get another 20-plus touches, but it wouldn’t be surprising to continue to see him get a decent workload.
While Conner has shown some good things in the passing game, that is an area in which Samuels could gain some ground and see the field. We already started to see that a bit in the weeks leading up to the former’s injury. As Roethlisberger said, the hope is that they are only just scratching the surface in terms of what he can do for them.