Ex-NC State RB Samuels looks for bigger role with Steelers
Rookie Jaylen Samuels entered Thursday night’s game with an NFL regular-season résumé that included all of 15 offensive snaps, five carries, no receptions and no touchdowns.
Did he emerge from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominating 52-21 win against the Carolina Panthers with a much more prominent role going forward?
“I’m feeling more comfortable as the season is going on,” Samuels said. “And l’m looking forward to it going up from here.”
Samuels had eight touches (five rushes and three catches) for 29 yards from scrimmage – including a 6yard touchdown reception from Ben Roethlisberger on the first play of the fourth quarter. That play served as something of an announcement of Samuels’ arrival in the NFL.
A fifth-round pick, Samuels had 47 touchdowns in his career at North Carolina State.
“I’d seen the end zone a lot in my college career,” said Samuels, a Charlotte native and standout player at Mallard Creek High School. “So to see it in the NFL for the first time, it was a beautiful thing. So hopefully it keeps riding up from here.”
Samuels’ career figures to continue ascending – but how Jaylen Samuels high? And how quickly? In some ways, his first notable NFL game comes at a time in which his rookie season is at something of a crossroads due to circumstances out of his control.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that by the time the Steelers play their next game, Samuels is their featured back. It’s also entirely possible, though, that over the next week he could be demoted down a peg of the depth chart.
The arrival of Le’Veon Bell could mean the latter; a poor prognosis within concussion protocol for James Conner could lead to the former.
The reality for the near future of Samuels’ Steelers career is probably somewhere in the middle.
“I mean I just come to work every day; I don’t really worry about any of that,” Samuels said, though he did add a little later that he “definitely” saw his more extensive action Thursday as an “audition” for even more work.
A tight end/fullback/wide receiver in college, the 6-foot, 225-pound Samuels was drafted by the Steelers to be a running back. That’s the position room in which he spends his time, and that’s where he most often lines up.
“I have been in the running back (room) doing a lot of stuff just strictly running back,” Samuels said, “but they also have splitting out some, motioning me out of the backfield, getting me mismatches on DBs and linebackers just getting me to run routes from the slot or from (outside) receiver. So they are doing a lot of different things with me.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Samuels on Thursday ran 15 plays lined up out of the backfield, plus one snap each from the slot and out wide. Coming into the game, those numbers are 12 from the backfield, one in the slot and two wide – all but two of the snaps coming the past two weeks.
Samuels appears to be earning increasingly more trust of the Steelers’ offensive coaches, enough so that his role in the offense might be immune to Bell’s potential arrival next week.
Samuels also apparently earned the eye of Roethlisberger. Samuels was targeted by attempted passes four times among his 17 snaps, a generous ratio – and Roethlisberger, unsolicited, brought up how glad he was that he was part of Samuels’ first pro touchdown.
“What an effort little screen play down there going over top,” Roethlisberger said. “It wasn’t an easy play by him and I was happy he was able to get into the end zone.”
Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels (38) leaps over Carolina Panthers defensive back Rashaan Gaulden for a touchdown during the second half Thursday in Pittsburgh.