If you told me that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be starting Jaylen Samuels at running back against the New England Patriots during the offseason, I would not have been too happy about it…and would have probably found it pretty hard to believe, as well. It turned out to be a pretty good plan.
The rookie out of North Carolina State, who was never a true running back, let alone a featured one, ending up rushing for 142 yards on 19 carries and added two receptions as well for an extra 30, playing an instrumental role in the Steelers’ rare victory over New England.
James Conner, watching from the sideline, was impressed, as he told reporters yesterday while addressing the status of his injured ankle and his questionable status for the team’s next game. While lamenting his inability to practice, he noted, “you see the way Jaylen and [Stevan Ridley] are playing. They’re capable”.
Ridley hasn’t gotten much work, but that is largely because the Steelers have been comfortable with what Samuels has produced on the field over the course of the past two weeks. Even during his 11-carry, 28-yard day the week before, he still had 64 receiving yards on seven catches.
After he was done discussing his own status with his high ankle sprain, Conner was asked to comment on what he saw of Samuels watching him from the sideline on Sunday.
“It was awesome”, he said of his rookie understudy. “It was fun to watch. He played with emotion and got the job done, made some big catches and really played a complete game. It was awesome to see. He came a long way. He’s a player for sure”.
Prior to Conner’s injury, Samuels had 31 rushing yards on 12 carries to go along with 54 receiving yards on seven receptions, who of which were for touchdowns. And technically two of those catches and a touchdown came after the injury on the final two plays of the previous game.
In the two games since, he has rushed for 170 yards on 30 attempts and added another 94 yards on nine receptions for a total of 264 yards from scrimmage on 39 touches, though he has yet to get back into the end zone.
Should he have to start for a third consecutive game, you know that nobody will be pulling for him harder than Conner, who was in Samuels’ situation a year ago. The main difference is that when Conner would have had an opportunity to play at the end of the season, he couldn’t due to injury.