Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring the last several offseasons. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Jaylen Samuels – More Explosive Receptions (And Fewer Drops)
Jaylen Samuels was drafted for his versatility but primarily for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. That he was a quasi-wide receiver, even playing faux tight end in school (lining up there but almost never blocking). His NC State numbers tell that story. 201 receptions, 182 carries.
Since being drafted by Pittsburgh, he’s become a more conventional back but still a supposed asset in the passing game. But does that pass the test? Not so much.
Consider this. Since 2018, Samuels has 73 receptions. Of the 31 backs with at least 60 catches over the past two seasons, Samuels ranks 26th in yards per catch at 6.9. Which no, is not a very nice number.
In his two years with the Steelers, Samuels has just three receptions of 20+ yards and none longer than 27. Only seven have gone for 15+ yards. That’s just not a good enough number in this day and age for someone drafted as a space player. For reference, over that same ’18-19 span, James Conner (who doesn’t have many more catches) has 16 catches of 15+ yards and nine of 20+.
Samuels struggles to win in space. He’s not explosive, not fast, he’s a linear, one-gear runner lacking elusiveness or power.
So far, he’s shown to be the quintessential jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of player that really doesn’t help the team win. And that’s when he catches the ball. Again, for someone billed as a great receiver for the position when he was selected, he’s dropped the ball a lot in his career. I have him down for six drops on 57 targets in 2019, a rate over 10%. Here’s a cutup of them all.
That ties him for 5th most by any running back a year ago, trailing every-down backs like Christian McCaffrey who saw far more targets.
His role, his path on this roster is to be a receiver. To motion out of the backfield, win 1v1 against linebackers, become an asset on screens, the short pass game, and a checkdown option for Ben Roethlisberger. There are other backs on the roster who are or likely will be more accomplished runners: James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, heck, maybe even Kerrith Whyte Jr. Samuels’ ticket is his hands and playmaking ability out of the backfield. So far, he hasn’t shown it.