Anatomy of a “WR”: Jaylen Samuels

By G.Stryker

The Steelers were entering the draft down a slot receiver. Eli Rogers tore his ACL January 14th in the last game against Jacksonville. Rehab on an ACL (Rod Woodson aside) is usually 6 months. At that point the player should be able to start resuming all football activities, but would have to work on regaining strength and the ability to change direction at full speed. Depending on the athlete, the type of surgery needed, and the severity of the initial injury, is what determines how quickly the player can return at the 6 month mark. Surgery was on January 20, so 6 mos takes us to July 20, which is right around the start of training camp. I personally don’t think he’ll be ready to resume football activity then, but I do expect him at camp, and getting stronger to hopefully return in late August or September. There are a lot of variables for Eli coming back to the Steelers, so the draft would have been the optimal place to grab another slot receiver, for insurance, and to increase competition at that position.

The Steelers did draft a WR in the second round, when they took James Washington. James looks like a polished Z receiver, who runs excellent deep and intermediate routes, but didn’t look much like a slot option to me. In the 5th round the Steelers drafted Jaylen Samuels, and some reports had him as a TE, others as a RB. Jaylen Samuels does a lot. Lines up as a TE, slot WR, RB, FB, HB, wildcat QB, you name it, he does it. Then I started to look at his tape, and he looked like a slot receiver with position flexibility to me.

So here’s a breakdown of his highlights. I will comment some on his other position traits, but I will note where he lines up and what ‘position’ he is playing at the snap of the football. I apologize in advance to the lengthy breakdown, but I’ve never reviewed a receiver with this much position flexibility before.

0:29 WR Slot Left: ran a 10yd dig/in and settled at the right hash. Used his hands in front of his chest, thumbs together for a good contested catch in front of the defender. Used his body to shield the ball well and quickly pulled it in to secure the catch.

0:38 WR Slot Left bunch formation: Waits for his blockers and runs a rub route slant in. Ball is thrown behind him, but still reaches back with both hands, thumbs together to secure the catch. He’s hit immediately and since he’s in the air, he gets hit pretty hard. The replay that immediately follows shows me a poised receiver that is used to contact, and still seemed to be in control as he fell. He put his arm down to cushion the fall (which I don’t recommend as it could inadvertently lead to an AC joint separation, or an incompletion), but he hung on and immediately hopped up, like it was a routine play. A little Hines Ward-esque in what seems to be a player that enjoys contact and catching contested balls.

0:58 Lone RB: ‘fake handoff’ slant out at goalline. Not sure it’s much of a fake since he’s not close to the QB when the fake comes, and the ball was thrown poorly behind him. He has to twist his upper body 180 degrees, and gets both hands on the ball to secure the catch. It’s more of a sandwich catch, as his right hand is in perfect position, but instead of being thumb to thumb, he is thumb to pinkie. He did a great job of effacing the palm of this left hand to increase the surface contact for the football. Great play on a poorly thrown ball. Replay shows the opposite angle, and again he puts his hand down when he hits the ground.

1:15 HB in 3RB set: Does a good job of getting to the edge when nothing was up the middle, and delivers a great hit downfield to the defender coming in for the tackle.

1:40 Z WR: trick play off a reverse, throwback to the QB. Ball slightly under thrown, he slows his gait and reaches back for a body catch. A body catch works here because it keeps his momentum moving downfield, and it gets him into the endzone. The replay showed what I thought to be a body catch, was actually a hands catch into an immediate tuck. Great catch and quick, strong hands.

2:03 Z WR/TE? I assume he lined up in the Z position since he was already in motion when this clip starts: Runs a RB circle route (starts as a quick out then bends up for a fly route). What looks like a circus catch, or a lucky tip is actually a pretty brilliant play by Samuels. Samuels jumps and extends, not to catch the ball, but to deaden it, knocking it back toward his chest. He would have caught it cleanly at the second tip, but the defender made his body twist away from the football as he fell. The second tip as he was falling was a bit fortunate, but he was still in control of it as he knocked it back to his center mass and secured the catch with 2 hands on the ground. This was a great play that showed Samuels was always in control and knew what he wanted to do. Great concentration and execution on a tough ball.

2:32 TB: for a TD run up the middle.

2:43 WR slot left: runs a post. Play seemed almost like a post dig, but I’m not sure if the QB threw a bad ball and Samuels had to come back to it, or if it was the route called. Perfect hands catch thumbs together, palms on the football.

2:53 Wildcat QB/TB: direct snap. Nice jump up and over for the TD.

3:05 Slot WR: in motion, handoff for WR end around. Lost a little yardage on a misstep, but still hits the edge and gains good yardage. Nice stiff arm downfield.

3:36 TB: runs off TE strong side for TD

3:18 X WR: runs a deep cross. Good hands catch and hit immediately. The reverse angle showed the ball popped loose of his grasp on the hit, but he quickly secures it again with both hands before hitting the ground. This is a great example of a contested catch in traffic.

3:57 in motion so I don’t know where he lined up initially but runs a quick WR screen.

4:08 Lone TB: take the handoff and throws complete. Not the best throw, WR has to slow down, twist, and jump to secure the ball, but still a nice compliment to his game. What doesn’t he do?

4:30 Lone TB: dives for TD, don’t know how he got in there, but it looked like he extended for the goal line as he was going down. Reverse angle, WOW. Fully extended dive reaching with one hand while his other hand kept him off the ground, for a legit TD.

5:11 TE: fake pitch left to TB, shovel pass to Samuels as he runs behind the linemen. Nice designed play for his talents. I hope the Steelers use it with Bell as the TB. This is my favorite designed play for his talents.

5:30 Trips right, inside slot WR/HB: quick screen.

5:37 TB: takes the ball off tackle strong side. Nice finish as he initiates contact downfield, to the defender.

5:47 HB endaround: Used his lead block well.

5:58 XWR/HB: he’s already in motion, so I don’t know where he lined up. End around. Nice shiftiness and balance to stay on his feet for the score.

6:43 WR slot right: quick hitting “screen”, though his defender was untouched. Makes a nice move and finishes for the score. This play probably wouldn’t have worked in the NFL.

6:55 TB: off tackle right

7:10 WR slot left: quick pass and used his great block by the X WR to get the first down.

7:18 Trips right, inside slot WR running a dig. Perfect hand positioning on the catch, as he reached up with both palms, slightly behind him to secure the ball. The catch carried him into space and he accelerates nicely, showing some burst to get downfield. Nice cut back and leap at the end.

7:35 TE: quick motion Sweep Right

7:40 Trips left TE/inside slot WR: Runs a drag and makes some good moves in traffic to extend the play for a first down. Perfect hand placement.

7:50 TB: Goalline nice blocking on the untouched TD.

8:11 TB: off tackle for the long TD.

8:32 Trips right, outside slot WR: Runs a deep drag, nice dive on a low throw to secure the catch. This was a strange ball to catch, but he twisted his body for pinkie to pinkie hand placement and both palms on the football.

8:38 TB: run off tackle left.

8:44 KR: nice kick return. He should get a shot at KR in preseason.

9:00 TB: run between Tackle and Guard right

9:10 QB/TB Wildcat direct snap at goalline: Reach and launch off center right for the TD.

9:24 WB/TB Wildcat direct snap at 17: fake end around, keeper for a run up the middle for 10 yards.

9:32 Trips left TE/Inside slot WR: Hitch at the goalline. Ball thrown way behind him. Reached back with one hand to deaden the ball, and secures it with both hands as he turns and lunges for the TD. The reverse angle play shows again how good he is at body control, and securing a football that he could not catch cleanly. Few receivers would make this play.

9:56 X WR/TE: this play is odd. When I was trying to figure out where the TE is, I noticed there are only 10 men on the field for the offense. Jaylen runs a hitch out. The replay showed his hitch was not crisp, he cut back on the wrong foot so his cutback started as an out. He needs to work back to the football in the pros, or that is a defended/intercepted ball. Still did a nice job of bending to catch the ball with his hands (though it would have hit him in the chest on a well executed hitch out).

10:17 QB/TB Wildcat direct snap at 8: fake end around, keeper for a run up the middle and breaks it outside again. Nice job of switching hands with the ball and reaching for the pylon when he went out of bounds for the TD.

10:34 TB: runs right between the guard and tackle for a nice gain breaking it down the sideline.

10:44 WR slot left four WR balanced set: Runs an 8yd drag. Good hand placement on the ball. Ball a little behind him, but still gets thumbs together and both palms on the ball.

10:50 TB: Great example of his vision. Looks like it was supposed to be his standard off tackle, outside run. He correctly reads the flow of the D and cuts back inside, straight up the middle for a nice 9yd TD run. This play was on 4th down and would have failed if he continued outside.

11:02 TB/HB: in motion handoff on the sweep right.

11:26 Already in motion as X WR: to take the handoff sweep right.

11:48 Slot WR/TE/HB?: Already in motion taking the handoff for a sweep left. He starts jawing with the defender and ref which makes the replay very entertaining. He gets a clear facemask as he stiff arms the defender. As he’s being tackled out of bounds, a UNC coach falls on him. He stiff arms the coach’s face as the coach falls. Samuels is a competitor.

12:24 TB: taking the handoff up the middle with a nice stiff arm.

12:36 TB: 10yd line, handoff between the guard and tackle for a nicely blocked, untouched TD.

12:53 In motion so don’t know if he’s the TE or WR: Takes the handoff for an end around.

13:02 Balanced 4WR set inside slot WR right: runs a 10yd dig and gets both hands nicely on the ball to secure it with a defender draped on him.

13:15 TE (Standing): runs a seam route. Made sure to catch the football cleanly, as he immediately went down with two handed possession. I thought this was odd until I realized it was 3rd and 17, and he knew he had to secure the ball to move the sticks. Excellent situational football awareness. Ball was not thrown well, but he did a great job of making sure both hands were on the ball to secure it.

13:44 QB/TB Wildcat direct snap at goalline: Runs right and dives for the TD.

14:19 Hands team on KR: Ball kicked right at him. Secures it with 2 hands and returns the ball for 35 yards, nearly scoring.


Saying Jaylen Samuels is a TE is a bit of a stretch. Only one play above, did he line up as an inline TE. The rest of the time he was a standing TE/Slot WR hybrid. I would have liked to see how he blocks on running plays as an inline TE, but I’m not sure if that is his strength anyway. His strength is his versatility.

As a running back, Samuels excelled in the red zone scoring touchdowns. He’d be an excellent addition to the Steelers red zone offense, that is looking to increase their touchdown production. Here he can be used as a RB, split back set with Bell, or in the slot to run misdirection, or get the ball and lunge for the score. Another great aspect of Samuels’ game is ball control. Steelers love backs that rarely fumble, and Jaylen also fits this mold. Out of his 386 career offensive touches, he only lost 3 fumbles.

Samuels has excellent hand placement which means he won’t put many potential catches on the ground. Samuels holds the all time receptions record at NC State. Two more catches than Jerricho Cotchery, and 9 more than Torry Holt. That alone should give any fan confidence that Jaylen is an excellent possession receiver, and can be counted on to move the chains on 3rd and 4th downs.

For a team that loves players with position flexibility, Samuels is the most position flexible player I’ve seen. Just off the highlight review, he lined up as: WR X, WR Z, WR Y (slot), TE standing, TE inline, HB, TB, QB (in wildcat), KR, and Hands Team on KR. The only thing it seems, he doesn’t do, is PR or kick. Being this flexible, I’d say he has a great shot of making the final roster. For a Jack-of-all-trades football player, he just may end up being the slot receiver the Steelers need.

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