After sitting on the bench for most of the season, Jaylen Samuels has gotten heavily involved in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense the last two weeks. Two games ago, that was largely due to James Conner sitting out after landing on the team’s Reserve/COVID list. Despite Conner returning for last Sunday’s game against Buffalo, Samuels recorded 27 snaps, the same number he had the week prior versus Washington. During his weekly Mike Tomlin Show, Mike Tomlin explained why Samuels still saw so much action.
“It’s how the game unfolded,” Tomlin told Bob Pompeani. “James had missed a significant amount of time. He got banged up a little bit in-game. It makes his availability this week a questionable one. It just will be based on his ability to perform in practice and what the quality of that looks like. And so over the course of those events and how the nature of the game was unfolding, it provided an opportunity for Jaylen.”
Conner sat out much of the second half, presumably injuring the quad that kept him out or limited in practice throughout this week. He ultimately played five snaps in the second half, ceding the way to Samuels, who logged 15.
Game circumstances also set Samuels up to play more. Pittsburgh trailed the entire second half and threw to catch-up. With Conner sidelined, Samuels was the team’s next-man up as passing down back. Samuels finished the game with four carries for 15 yards and chipped in another three receptions for 18 yards.
Samuels was drafted as the team’s receiving back. But inconsistent hands and shaky pass protection has made it tough for him to see the field this season. Prior to the Washington game, Samuels had played double-digit snaps in just one game, the Week One opener against New York.
He’s struggled to regain the production he flashed his rookie season. Despite Conner’s injuries last season, Samuels had just 66 carries (granted, he missed two games of his own) and averaged a horrendous 2.7 YPC. He did soak up plenty of checkdowns from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, catching 47 balls, second on the team only behind Diontae Johnson.
With Conner almost certain to hit free agency and sign elsewhere in the offseason, the door could open for Samuels to maintain a passing down role. Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell generally aren’t viewed in that same way. But the Steelers are also likely to draft another back, potentially early, which could make a path to playing time again narrow.