While Kenyan Drake was the topic of last week’s article (and he provided a nice payoff in his first week as a starter) he was not the player I was most interested in Week 9. That distinction belonged to Curtis Samuel. The main question about Curtis Samuel was, “How involved would he be in the Panthers offense in the post Kelvin Benjamin era?” The answer was – a lot.
Samuel was a hot name entering his final year at Ohio State in 2016, but since he was stuck behind someone named Ezekiel Elliott (you may have heard of him) he never got into the box score much. The few times he actually did get the ball, he had a knack for the big play, but the question remained, what would he do as a feature player? A few short months later he became the only player in Buckeye history to net over 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving. You could say his final season went pretty well…and he was rewarded with the 40th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers.
This is when his story became interesting as Head Coach Ron Rivera had some interesting things to say about their new toy after the draft. To paraphrase – they don’t see him as a running back…they don’t feel they will have to manufacture touches for him…and his optimal role was as a hybrid like what Jerricho Cotchery and Ted Ginn Jr. had done in recent years. Basically, they saw him as a slot receiver that would double as a down-field threat. With Ginn alone averaging 100+ looks, 900+ yards, and 7 TD’s in 2015 and 2016 in that same role in the Panthers offense, a player like that is extremely appealing in our game. While Samuel displays the traits necessary for such a role, not being used in such a way in college, Samuel had a hefty learning curve ahead and the months before his first NFL career game were of great importance.
Unfortunately, his development was stunted by several nagging injuries. After missing a large portion of training camp the Panthers really had no choice but to plan to utilize him in a limited role to open the season. While he’s been on the dynasty radar all along, and for good reason, he never really gained any momentum in redrafts and was for all intents and purposes an afterthought…and then Kelvin Benjamin was traded. This offense was stuck in neutral and needed a spark. Greg Olsen is out, Christian McCaffrey has been effective but not the game breaker they hoped for, Jonathan Stewart has nowhere to run, and Benjamin has a redundant skill set to teammate Devin Funchess. What were they missing? Besides Olsen (obviously), there’s no Cotchery nor Ginn – exactly who Rivera mentioned post draft about Samuel. So was Samuel ready to take on such a role? I don’t think it’d be fair to say any Panthers decision makers knew, but their actions indicated they were sure that this offense would not find its footing with the current group. The Samuel experiment could fail or it could flourish, but with the latter as a potential outcome they felt pulling the trigger on Kelvin Benjamin was the teams only option.
In the first game post trade, Samuel net the most snaps among any Panthers wide receivers. While an expanded role was to be expected, this number was an attention grabber. Then taking a step back and seeing the whole picture – being utilized in college in a role in which Percy Harvin flourished, a skill set in which a player like Tyreek Hill is now showing can be fantasy relevant, while also having wide receiver tape that compares strongly to Golden Tate and also having the ability to open the lid on the defense like Ginn. It takes some squinting through rose colored glasses to see the upside, but it’s difference making…and with that workload, even if he’s just half of his expectations he’s still start worthy.
Granted, Samuel didn’t win anyone games with his Week 9 performance, if he did, then he’s a completely different subject right now. We’re not in “he’s the answer, go get him” territory; we’re in the “he could be what your team needs to get it over the top…but we don’t know yet” zone. We are past the worst of the bye weeks; more teams were on bye each of the last two weeks (six) than the next two. Look at your roster – you have some dead weight floating around begging you to take a flier on someone. If this wasn’t enough to convince you, the Panthers face two of the worst pass defenses in the league in the weeks that matter – 15 and 16.
This Week’s Flavor of the Week is Cake
Who doesn’t love cake? NOMNOMNOMNOMNOM.