Even for the professionals who literally do it for a living, it’s virtually impossible to be familiar with every draft prospect coming out every year. There are always going to be players that you’re not familiar with or don’t know much about, and chances are your team is going to draft at least one or two of them.
I’m sure that’s not an uncommon experience for many Pittsburgh Steelers fans. But I often find myself understanding immediately why they drafted a player after I hear them speak for the first time. particularly in recent years, I feel as though the team has had a pretty strong track record in acquiring driven and well-spoken individuals.
T.J. Watt was certainly one of them. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner were others. They all went to the Pro Bowl last year in their second season. Mason Rudolph last year impressed me a lot with how he carries himself. But another 2018 rookie did so as well, and that was Jaylen Samuels.
Even though his role in the NFL up to this point has been relatively limited, he also seems to have made a pretty sizable impression on the coaching staff, even going so far as to use his successful transition to the running back position as one of the reasons that they elected to hire his college position coach this offseason.
The way that Samuels speaks—or rather the content of his speech and the manner in which it is delivered—reminds me of Watt. It’s a mixture of confidence and humility, a pairing that comes with somebody who knows he’s capable of excelling, but is also aware of the work that goes into reaching that point.
Watt is fast approaching that point after racking up 13 sacks and six forced fumbles in his second season last year. Samuels figures to work in a rotational role as the secondary ball carrier and perhaps also a third-down back this season behind Conner. But he will prepare as though he is going to play every single snap.
He talked to the team’s website earlier this month about his plans for the offseason and about his rookie year. Among the things that he discussed was the fact that he is going to spend a lot of time in particular working on his pass protection, among other things. One quote in particular jumped out at me, though.
“How you attack it depends on how great you want to be”, he said. “It’s tough. But when I work out I work on my craft every day. Not every day is pass blocking. Some days are speed, some are power, some my football craft”.
How you attack it depends on how great you want to be. I like that. it’s intuitively obvious, but it has power when you give it voice and make it concrete. Samuels doesn’t sound like a player who is much in need of external motivation, and in such cases, one might hesitate in trying to put a ceiling on what they can accomplish.