Now that training camp has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: RB Jaylen Samuels
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The fourth-year veteran running back put forth a strong performance on Thursday in the Steelers’ second preseason game as he competes to retain his roster spot.
A fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina State in 2018, Jaylen Samuels seemingly so impressed during his rookie season, essentially learning the running back position, that they hired his position coach a year later, Eddie Faulkner.
That might be a bit too robust of a pitch, but suffice it to say that there was optimism about Samuels and his future following his rookie season that has since not been delivered upon. In fact, he has been among the least efficient runners in all of the NFL over the past two seasons, and few, I expect, actually have him making the 53-man roster this year.
While Pittsburgh allowed James Conner to walk in free agency, the team also used a first-round draft pick on Najee Harris, while also signing Kalen Ballage in free agency. Combined with recent fourth-round picks Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland, the room may simply be too crowded for the fourth-year back to stick.
But that won’t stop him from trying, and he looked good last week in the Steelers’ second preseason game, even breaking tackles, something he was actually able to do during his rookie year. He rushed for 45 yards during the game on 10 carries, including a touchdown from the goal line. He also caught a pass for 17 yards.
If he fails to make the 53-man roster, it will not have been for lack of effort. He has come closer to looking the part this offseason than he has for the past two years, and his ostensibly diverse skill set could potentially help him get carried as the fourth running back, with either Snell or Ballage on the outside looking in.
Failing that, he could be retained on the practice squad. I’m not sure the odds are particularly high that he would be claimed off waivers should he fail to make the team, and as a non-vested veteran, he would still have to go through waivers.