Jaylen Samuels was not guaranteed a roster spot when the Pittsburgh Steelers used a fifth-round pick on the h-back out of North Carolina State last May. When his name was announced, those on the outside were not even sure at what position he was being drafted, but the Steelers had a clear vision of using him as a running back all the way.
The rookie spent all season essentially learning the position on a full-time basis, and while he often showed just how inexperienced he is in that role, he also flashed a lot of potential to be a dual-threat player at the position, making some nice catches and producing yards afterward by breaking tackles.
A late-season ankle injury suffered by James Conner even gave him an opportunity to start, and while he didn’t blow things up, he showed enough to get the coaching staff encouraged about him going forward, including a 100-yard rushing game against the New England Patriots in a winning effort.
Even before Conner was injured, there were indications that the Steelers were beginning to use Samuels more frequently to spell their starter, perhaps a hint of the rookie having a bigger role in the offense in 2019 in conjunction with Conner. And he’s all for that. In fact, he would still love to start again.
“It was a fun experience. I hope to be in that position again”, he said of that chance to start a few games. But “whenever James needs a break I can go in there and give him a blow, have no drop off. I think it’s kind of cool”, he said.
For the season, Samuels rushed for 256 yards on 56 carries, bolstered by a 142-yard day against the Patriots o n19 carries. He also caught 26 passes for another 199 yards, three of which he turned into touchdowns. He fumbled the ball once but quickly recovered it himself.
“I feel like I gained more confidence as I got more reps”, he said in explanation of why his production went on the more that he played. “For us to be able to complement each other, play off each other is going to be a big deal in the long run”.
One another in which he is going to have to spend a lot of time this offseason is in pass protection, because he had several back reps in that department last season, whether it was identifying the correct assignment or actually completing the block.
The good news is that Conner had the same problem during his rookie season but was able to turn it around in short order and become a good pass protector in year two. If Samuels and do that, then he figures to feature more behind Conner in 2019, provided that the Steelers don’t make a significant investment at the position between now and then.