Over the years, there have been many "hybrid" players to come into the league from college football with various success. In college football, great athletes are fed the ball in creative ways in order to create opportunities for big plays, but sometimes that does not translate properly to the NFL. This year, you see Tyreek Hill scoring from all over the formation and Ty Montgomery making a successful transition to running back from wide receiver.
In the past, that type of sucess has been enjoyed to a certain level by Percy Harvin before his career was derailed by injuries and off field debacles. However, those players don’t always make such a seamless transition. Cordarelle Patterson and Tavon Austin are two guys who come to mind in terms of dynamic college players who never lived up to that hype in the league.
Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel was a multidimensional threat for the Buckeyes who lined up outside, in the slot and in the backfield, making plays as a wide receiver and a running back at a very high level. With Samuel ascending to the NFL level, there is a conversation about where Samuel should be playing full time or whether or not he is a certain position at all. It is a fair discussion, because Samuel is not just an athlete getting fed the ball for the sake of his athleticism, he is an excellent running back but is also an incredibly polished and effective wide receiver.
Though the route is not on screen, he does a great job getting open against zone coverage and then making a tough catch despite taking a big hit. His dependability as a receiver is seriously impressive and I am sure a lot of Eagles fans will love his consistency catching the ball.
Here is another nice play from Samuel. While getting open underneath isn’t the most impressive thing in the world, it shows Samuel’s ability to catch passes despite having bodies around him.
Samuel has a lot of things to like as a pass catcher: He has great hands and is a very, very good route runner. Considering his polish on top of his athletic ability, it would make sense why people would want him at wide receiver.
However, consider this:
This is among the reasons that Samuel should have a running back number on his NFL jersey: Mismatches. Having the type of receiving threat that Samuel is out of the backfield gives an offense the ability to match him up with safeties and linebackers. At wide receiver, while he can certainly be a good or even very good player, his athletic advantage is mitigated against NFL cornerbacks while that same ability would be maximized against linebackers or safeties.
That is some guy named Marshall Faulk motioning out of the backfield and scoring a touchdown deep down the field on a linebacker. That is the type mismatch that coaches can take advantage of in the NFL.
The other thing about having Samuel at running back is quite simply that it is easier to get him the ball.
When you have a player who can break away from a defense like this...
It is disadvantageous for an offense to elongate or complicate the process of getting the ball to him.
It is obvious that Samuel has instantaneous speed to outrun defenses all by himself, but he is a lot more than just a fast player at running back. He also does a great job of making guys miss in space.
His ability to cut and accelerate seamlessly not only makes him a great route runner, but also a dangerous running back who can create yardage with the ball in his hands.
His good vision and cutback ability to find daylight to run at.
His athletic and cerebral ability as a runner make him schematically flexible in terms of running philosophies.
An obstacle for Samuel’s success at running back in the NFL is a relatively unorthodox build that affects his game. At 5-11 and only 200 pounds, he is skinny for an NFL back and because he is a bit taller, he lacks natural leverage running the ball. His lack of natural power is magnified because Samuel will sometimes stop his feet to redirect or not drive through contact.
The ease in which he can be tackled is a bit of a concern considering he will not out run everyone in the NFL the way he does in college. However, there is hope that Samuel can improve in this regard.
As is evident, Samuel can break through contact as long as he keeps his feet moving and his pads low. In fact, if he can do that consistently, he becomes a pretty damn complete running back.
This play is a great example of Samuel’s ceiling as an NFL player. Against the most talented defense he faced and among the best in college football, Samuel does a great job making guys miss, breaking tackles and accelerating through the play. If Samuel can improve his footwork in the NFL, he could very easily be this type of playmaker as a full time running back.
CJ Spiller came into the league as a 5-11, 200 pound running back with blazing speed. While injuries derailed his career, he had a brilliant season a few years ago that gave us a glimpse of what his career could have been. Spiller was not only a great running back, but also game breaking receiving option. While I think Samuel is not quite the athlete that Spiller was coming into the league, Samuel is much more polished as a receiver and not as injury prone.
Whether or not Samuel will be viewed by the league as a full time running back is to be seen, but Samuel is just not the type of player you let fall far in the draft. He could absolutely be a very productive receiver, but he could be even more dynamic as a running back. If I’m the Eagles, a team that loves using backs in the passing game, I think long and hard about spending a high pick on the Buckeye. Running back, receiver or both, Curtis Samuel is a first round playmaker.