The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Jaylen Samuels will be used as the team’s third-down back this season.
Explanation: While James Conner showed last season that he can catch the ball, and even pass protect, the Steelers really valued Samuels’ receiving ability coming out of college. Conner did have some big miscues as a receiver later in the year. Samuels scored three times on receptions.
For as much as Conner might have surprised with his receiving ability last season, even making some legitimately impressive catches, Samuels is the most skilled running back on the roster in terms of catching the football, as attested to by his over 200 career receptions in college, and he really looked the part as a rookie as well.
Catching the ball, either out of the backfield or the slot, Samuels did everything that Conner did as a receiver, showing great ability to make tacklers miss in space. And he should be able to do that even better this year at a lower playing weight.
Plus, he seems to have a nose for the end zone, and knows how to turn the corner on a linebacker or safety trailing him in coverage with the ball in his hands—and how to beat them in-route before that. He has already earned Ben Roethlisberger’s trust, which makes him useful in those key situations.
But where he really needs to be more useful is in pass protection, because he allowed a couple of sacks just on his own during his three-game starting stint late in the year. If he can’t pass protect proficiently, he will absolutely not play on money downs.
Aside from the need for that very important improvement, the simple fact of the matter is that Conner is already a third-down back in his own right, in addition to being a first- and second-down back. He already showed last season that there is no scenario, other than for rest, in which it behooves the team from a personnel standpoint to take him off the field, so it’s hard to see a specialized role formed for Samuels in light of that.