Versatility is a coveted trait for NFL teams. General managers, head coaches, and coordinators love for their players to have position flexibility so they can be creative on the field with their schemes. A unique player in this draft is the Ohio State product, Curtis Samuel. Samuel is an excellent athlete who played a running back/wide receiver hybrid role for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes in 2016. When Samuel was not in the backfield taking handoffs, he was playing as a slot receiver. But, without getting too much into Samuel the WR (that’s for the ITP draft guide!) I’ll instead speak to how a team may use Samuel’s versatility in the NFL.
Samuel’s scheme fit and how he may be utilized at the next level could be interesting depending on what team selects him. The NFL is scouting him as a slot receiver which I absolutely believe is the correct position for him moving forward due to all his traits. He’s athletic, tough, and displays the ability to diagnose/read a defense. Yet, there’s the added element to Samuel that he can line up in the backfield. This facet of his game is extremely valuable because he can be a potential matchup problem for opposing defenses depending on whose responsibility it is to cover Samuel on a given play.
In this first play from Ohio State’s game against Bowling Green, Samuel is to the left of quarterback J.T. Barrett (#16) in the shotgun. Barrett motions Samuel to his right side before the ball is snapped.
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When the play begins Barrett receives the snap and hands it to Samuel for an inside run. The offensive line opens up a path on this inside zone run. Samuel sees the hole and displays excellent burst as he picks up a nice gain for the Buckeyes.
For the second play, later in the same game, Samuel is to the right of Barrett once again in the shotgun. With a trips formation to the left, Barrett motions Samuel to the slot on the right side, spreading out the formation. Bowling Green safety Antonyo Sotolongo (#21) moves to defend Samuel now in the slot.
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When the ball is snapped Samuel plants himself as if he was running to the outside, but uses very good change of direction to shift to the inside on a slant route. Sotolongo bites on the fake, allowing Samuel to separate with the middle of the field open. Barrett puts the ball on Samuel who catches it and then shows off his explosiveness en route to a touchdown.
Let’s look to the NFL for how Samuel may be used at the next level. The Green Bay Packers have two versatile RB/WR hybrid types in Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery, with Montgomery being used more in the RB role as of late than Cobb due to a lack of depth in 2016. For context, it is important to note that Montgomery is essentially a RB who can play WR now. While Cobb on the other hand is a slot WR sparsely used to run the ball, but is a threat to make a play out of the backfield due to his versatility when lined up there. Having a player who can take the handoff one play and then line up in the slot the next can be an issue for opposing defenses. Especially if the offense is prone to hurrying up not allowing the defense to change personnel like the Packers often do. It could leave a bigger and slower LB on the field to defend against these versatile players.
It almost worked for Rodgers and the Packers against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs this past January. Rodgers motioned Montgomery all the way out wide with Sean Lee (#50) defending the WR turned RB. Rodgers may have just missed the opportunity to throw it to Montgomery, who had Lee beat for a moment, and instead went with the safer pass on 3rd and 3 to Geronimo Allison for the 1st down.
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During Week 7 of last season Montgomery took over the running back role against the Chicago Bears after injuries to both Eddie Lacy and James Starks. A sequence of no huddle plays on a drive early in the 3rd quarter displayed Montgomery’s versatility, and offer a hint into Samuel’s usage in the NFL. With the Packers down 10-6 to the Bears, he had a 30 yard run on a draw, a five yard reception on a swing pass, a three yard run, and a short screen pass for six yards on 3rd and 2. Later in the drive Montgomery was motioned to the outside and then was used in the slot. Samuel could very well see similar usage upon entering the NFL.
It would be ideal to see Samuel be drafted by a team like Green Bay or New England. The Patriots would be a good fit because of how they supplement their running game with their short passing game through the use of receiving threats in the backfield. Prior to trading their first round pick for Brandin Cooks I thought another draft prospect with the ability to play a hybrid role – Stanford RB, Christian McCaffrey – would be a good fit for Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. Of course, now without a first round pick there is no way McCaffrey will fall to New England. There is a chance, however, that Samuel can.
No matter where Samuel ends up he’ll be a productive slot receiver, but depending on the creativity/scheme of the offense he could be even more than that.
If you want to read more about Curtis Samuel and the other top players in the NFL Draft be sure to check out the 2017 ITP Draft Guide.