Playing the waiting game summed up Jaylen Samuels in 2018. He was a fifth round pick, waiting until Day Three to hear his name called after a draft process filled with uncertainty. He mostly played receiver in college, moved to running back for the Senior Bowl, and worked with the tight ends at the Combine. Once drafted, he had to bide his time to see the field, largely after James Conner’s high ankle sprain against the Chargers in Week 13.
“I knew it was a long season,” he told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I had to stay patient. I knew what type of player I was. I knew I belonged here. I got drafted late. I wanted to come in and prove to everybody I was better than a fifth round pick.”
It took until Week 5 for him to touch the ball for the first time, four rushing attempts for 17 yards against the Cleveland Browns. But after Conner’s injury, he started the next three games, averaging a very healthy 5.3 yards per carry and bouncing back after a terrible debut against the Oakland Raiders. He became a big part of the offense as a receiver too, scoring all three touchdowns through the air, the second Steelers’ rookie back to do so in franchise history.
Assuming Le’Veon Bell is playing in another city next year, Samuels will have good odds of being James Conner’s backup and being part of the rotation – to what degree is unclear – in 2019. Samuels was asked what he’s trying to improve heading into his sophomore year.
“I just want to get faster, work on my speed. This league is fast. It’s not about size, it’s about speed and knowing what you have to do.”
Samuels will likely follow Bell and Conner’s footsteps, two guys who dropped weight after their rookie year. He seemed to play a little heavy as a rookie and dropping ten pounds will help his burst to hit the hole, get around the edge, or win in space as a receiver. He told Varley he’s hiring a speed trainer this summer, too.
He’ll also have his college coach on his side, the Steelers hiring Eddie Faulkner to replace James Saxon this offseason. Not only did Faulkner coach Samuels at NC State, he was the man responsible for recruiting him there.