In 2016, the NFL saw a rise in the utilization of multi-skill players who can play out of the backfield or run routes as a receiver. Tyreek Hill and Ty Montgomery immediately come to mind. Additionally, running backs such as David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are catching the ball with such frequency that they would be legitimate fantasy assets even if they only received credit for receiving production.
NFL offensive coordinators are evolving, and these types of players are in demand. There is a player in this year’s draft who is ready-made for this type of hybrid role: Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel.
Samuel entered the Buckeyes’ program as a running back, but his path to a full-time role in that capacity was blocked by Ezekiel Elliott. In 2014, his freshman year, he played all 14 games in a supporting role to Elliott, posting 383 rushing yards and six touchdowns to go with 11 receptions and 95 receiving yards.
In 2015, Samuel transitioned to the h-back role but saw a decline in usage. While he did flash some big play ability, his lack of touches was evident in his production. His rushing line was 17/132/1, and his receiving line was 22/289/2 over 14 games.
In 2016, Samuel exploded as a true dual threat. He was the only player in FBS to gain more than 700 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving. His big play ability was on full display as he turned in 17 plays of 20 or more yards. His rushing line was 91/704/8, and his receiving line was 65/822/7.
Samuel flashed every time the lights were brightest. He scored the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime against Michigan. He turned in a receiving line of 8/137/2 against Nebraska. Samuel broke a 74-yard TD run against Penn State.
Samuel’s diverse skills and athleticism have led to disagreements between coaches and scouts about his ideal position dating back to high school. Back in high school, he played running back and excelled, however, major scouting services Scout and Rivals designated him as a wide receiver. Even though he wasn’t a WR in high school, both scouting services rated him as a top-10 talent in the class. 247Sports rated him as the fifth best athlete in the nation.
Samuels stands 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 197 pounds. His build seems more suited to the WR position at the NFL level. His 4.44 speed in the forty yard dash coupled with his open field agility would make him a nightmare to defend in the slot. With natural pass-catching ability, I think NFL scouts will evaluate him as a WR.
Samuels is a true play-maker. His diverse skills would transfer well as a slot WR to any NFL team, but he would be best suited for a pass-happy offense and/or a creative offensive coordinator who will design plays for him at positions all over the field. Ten years ago, teams would have struggled to evaluate how he fits into an offense, but it is a new day in the NFL. I rank him as one of the five best WRs in this draft class and expect him to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
Samuels would be an excellent choice in the second round of dynasty rookie drafts, and depending on his landing spot, could end up demanding a first round pick.