The Pittsburgh Steelers are still trying to figure out who rookie Jaylen Samuels is as a runner. Frankly, so is he. While for the most part the blocking did him no big favors in the running game on Sunday, he also made some seriously questionable decisions, most notably a lateral sprint in a short-yardage situation, though a hold negated the play anyway.
As a pass-catcher, however, he is and has been a different player dating back to his college days. Even though he is a back of a larger size, getting Samuels into open space has fairly consistently given him opportunities to demonstrate the ability to create yards after the catch and make defenders miss.
The rookie caught all seven of his targets in the game for 64 yards, but most notably, he produced 78 yards after the catch. I hope I don’t need to explain that this means his targets frequently came from behind the line of scrimmage.
The majority of his work came out of the backfield, but he did have a couple of targets at receiver too, such as this short gain in the first quarter. Lined up to the far left, he broke in on a pick route to make a strong reception before picking up what he could on the play, which was not much.
Samuels was able to get away from one tackler on this screen pass in the second quarter with the left half of his offensive line getting out front to block. Not only did he get away from Johnathan Hankins on the seven-yard grab, he drew a facemask penalty as well and kept going.
Midway through the third quarter, Joshua Dobbs found him on a screen out of the backfield to the right for a six-yard pickup. Here he was able to weave through traffic and force a missed tackle from the cornerback for a positive play on second and nine.
The fourth quarter allowed him a couple of opportunities to produce chunk yardage with the ball in his hands, the first coming on a 13-yard gain with under five minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger checked the ball down to him in the right flat. After forcing the linebacker to whiff on the open-field opportunity, he was able to race out of bounds for a first down.
Quickly after that play, the Steeler ran a great inside screen for Samuels that picked up 23 yards. Matt Feiler and Vance McDonald in particular set up this play, the running back showing good vision to hit the right avenue to maximize his gain on the play.
The fifth-round pick still has a lot to learn about the running game, but he is already doing pretty well for himself in the passing game, and that includes as a blocker as well. The Steelers already started using him more prior to James Conner’s injury, so it will be interesting what role he retains once their starter returns to action.