Last week I was the bad guy. I wrote about a couple guys that I had questions about. This week will be the opposite. All draft crushes. All players that if this team would draft them, I could care less how the rest of the draft goes. The first player is a bit of a polarizing one because some think he’s a running back, other think he’s a receiver. Most will agree just get him on the field. Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel is a 5’11, 196 pounder that makes your offense better. He is a receiver. And a damn good one. I think because Samuel didn’t play receiver full-time the easy thing to do is peg him as a “raw route runner.” That couldn’t be further from the truth and that’s why I wanted to make sure he was the first offensive player I wrote about.
Win early so you don’t have to win late
What I’ve learned this past fall is that the top tier receivers all have the same thing in common: they win early in the route. Samuel ran a 4.31 40 yard dash and had a 37” vertical at the combine. It’s no surprise to see him blow by people. What was pleasantly surprising his him show some nuance as a route runner. 2 targets against Michigan stand out. The first one is a slant. Simple route. Samuel takes a simple route by adding a jab step with a head fake to it.
Curtis Samuel's szn summed up in 1 route pic.twitter.com/WfBwUKosSp— KP (@KP_Show) February 18, 2017
The result is leaving the defender in the rear view mirror. Stats never really tell the true story and Samuel is the ultimate example of this. He suffered from below average quarterback play. If he played with even an average QB, I think we would be talking about him much more.
The next route you see Samuel again in the slot, this time against one of the better corners in the draft. More nuance, just in a different way. There’s a hesitation that lulls the DB to sleep, then he does a good job of using his hands here to keep himself clean.
In the slot vs Jourdan Lewis. I'm not exaggerating when I say he could've had 4-500 more yards this year. pic.twitter.com/7Y3undgbhD— KP (@KP_Show) March 6, 2017
Then you see the burst to pull away. The subtle part about this is how there’s a nice inside release from Samuel, but he makes sure he “stacks” the DB and gets back on track. He knows what he’s doing as a receiver. Even further down the field, you can see him avoid contact. This should’ve been a 40 yard TD.
Don’t let anyone tell you different.
Special in space
If you give an explosive athlete like Samuel room, you’re asking for it. Most of his routes came in the slot so he had a 2 way go. The results were not in favor of the defense. Layering moves at full speed when you can go both directions is a skill that few have. Samuel is one of the few that possess this trait. It’s why I believe he’s the best slot receiver in the draft.
Curtis Samuel with a 2 way go or in space is usually a win for the offense. He's also $$ on 3rd & 6 or less. Him good pic.twitter.com/01O0dEk8WK— KP (@KP_Show) January 9, 2017
The ability to turn a simple in route into a touchdown means something. It means a lot. Samuel isn’t just this high-end athlete playing the position, though. He shows great awareness as a route runner when the defense is in zone coverage. He finds windows, knows when to sit down and when to work the scramble drill. He’s an impressive player, man.
Pressing and fighting
He didn’t see much of it, so it’s tough to project Samuel being good against press coverage. He saw some press against Maryland(even on the perimeter) and was fine. He actually drew a defensive holding penalty on a deep pass from press that game. The very next play, this happened.
You see an efficient release. You also see him “stacking” again then pulling away late with speed. Everything you need to see I have seen some reps where he gets hung up at the line. He’ll have to use his hands more, but I don’t foresee this being the thing that holds Samuel back from a really good receiver.
Samuel’s greatest area for improvement is catching the ball. That sounds awful for a receiver but he has a tendency to fight the ball in. That leads to double catches or a rare drop. His ball skills are average at best when he has to go outside of his frame. That’s what’s holding him back.
Focus drops don’t really bother me. Those are the drops where you are just taking your eyes off the ball and running before you have it. These ones are a concern, though. The good news is, per CFB film room, Samuel only had a drop rate of 3.2%. His drops came at moments that are easy to remember. Like in the end zone against Penn State, or the couple in the bowl game versus Clemson.
So naturally, the mind thinks he drops a ton of passes. He was easily Ohio State’s most reliable pass catchers and for my money one of the best 3 down receivers I’ve seen this year.
Speaking of the Clemson drop, that’s where you wonder about his ability to go get it outside of his frame. Much like the Michigan drop above.
When I think ball skills I’m lumping in the ability to time your jump as well. Tracking the ball over his shoulder isn’t an issue but I could see this argument. Now this will be the area that will prevent Samuel from getting a big 2nd contract. If he doesn’t improve on making plays outside of his frame. By far my biggest knock on him.
He didn’t break one as a returner but Samuel with the number of touches he had as a runner you can project his added value in the return game. Samuel is nothing short of spectacular with the ball in his hands.
He has the wiggle to make you miss in tight quarters, balance to stay on his feet, and burst to break away. In the Penn State game, he made the 1st defender miss a couple times. But it was his long run that reminded me of a punt return.
He didn’t make anyone miss there. He didn’t have to. Just give him a crease and the burst does the rest.
Why invest in Samuel
As a receiver, he does everything you want at a high level, up until the most important part. He wins with his feet. He wins with positioning. He wins with head fakes. He knows how to change tempo and his stems mid route. Then his speed after the fact makes him a terror to guard. When it comes time to catch the ball, it’s outside of his frame when you start to worry. Will this improve as he becomes a full-time receiver? That’s the question. For now, you’re getting a dynamite athlete who is a threat to score every time he touches it. A player that will also be consistent and move the chains for you. His added bonus as a special teamer is just icing on the cake. I don’t have a comp and don’t want to force one. Many people compare him to Randall Cobb, but I think that’s selling him short. Samuel likely doesn’t fall out of the top 50, so if you’re a Charger fan and you want Samuel, you’re likely going to have to pull the trigger with your 2nd round pick. In my book, he’s a 1st round talent.