With this year’s NFL Draft just about a month away, the speculation on who the Pittsburgh Steelers may select at pick number 24 has been well underway. Many believe the smartest route is for the Steelers to address the need for offensive line help early in the draft. Others seem to think that the best option is for the Steelers to select a running back in the first round, giving our offense a new dynamic weapon that’s able to take the pressure off of our passing game. The opinions vary and who knows who will still be on the board when we select at number 24, but the direction the Steelers go will tell a lot about what they think of the players on the current roster.
If the Steelers do choose to go offense in the first round like many expect, there is no doubt in my mind that the pick will either be an offensive tackle or a running back. Those are their biggest positions of need and both have a deep prospect list for this year’s draft class. Hypothetically, there might be an opportunity for Pittsburgh to draft a top tier running back with their late first round pick and if a guy of Najee Harris or Travis Etienne‘s ability is still available at #24, it would be very hard for the Steelers to say no. Especially since it was so clear last year that this particular position was one that held us back in 2020. A new look offense could be on the way for the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers, with some familiar faces staying in the mix.
One name that did not see the field much last season was Jaylen Samuels. Samuels, a 5th round draft pick in 2018, has had his fair share of opportunities since coming into the league just three years ago. In his rookie season, he got the majority of his playing time towards the latter half of the year due to an injury to starting RB at the time, Le’Veon Bell. Samuels started in three games, rushing the ball a total of 42 times for 223 yards and just one touchdown. Samuels best game was against the New England Patriots where he came up clutch in a game that had serious playoff implications. In that contest, Samuels rushed the ball 19 times for 142 yards, and followed that with a strong performance against the New Orleans Saints the week after. Samuels was helpful in taking the pressure off of quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger who was in the middle of throwing for a 5,000-yard season, and allowed for the coaching staff to balance their offensive game plan.
At the time, it looked like Samuels was capable of carrying the load. His type of play is one that translates well to this “new and improved” type of football. He is an elusive back with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Just being that dual threat type of presence behind a future Hall of Fame quarterback is enough to keep teams guessing, which ultimately works in our favor. He wasn’t the power back that Steeler Nation has been accustomed to seeing standing behind our QB, but Samuels did fit our scheme and showed promise in his first season in black and gold.
Coming out of the 2018 season, I think many expected Samuels to have a key part in our offense for the new upcoming year, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. The emergence of now free agent RB James Conner didn’t help Samuels’ cause at all. It seemed like as Conner’s “stock” was rising, and Samuels’ was falling. Their production levels counteracted each other in a way that did not benefit Samuels at all. After Le’Veon Bell left for the New York Jets following the 2018 year, Conner took the starting role and ran with it. He was the Steelers “bell cow” when healthy and had the organization backing him.
With Conner now being a free agent, still in search of his new football home, the Steelers are down their starting running back from the past three seasons and are going to try and do their best to replace his production whichever way possible. Now, as stated before, many expect the Steelers to select a running back at pick 24 in this year’s draft, but if that’s not the case, do you see a situation where Jaylen Samuels sees more playing time in 2021? He is on a contract year and with the way offenses are looking now, Samuels’ type of play is one that sticks. It could be far fetched, but if the Steelers don’t bring in another running back, could we see a tandem of Benny Sell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels in 2021?
Is Jaylen Samuels bound to see more playing time in 2021? Comment below!