There is a good chance many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers would vote for Jaylen Samuels as the biggest offensive surprise of the 2018 season. It isn’t as if he wasn’t hyped up enough after being drafted as the team’s Swiss Army knife coming out of N.C. State, but not one saw him getting a starting opportunity as a rookie.
However, when James Conner went down with a high ankle sprain vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, it was Samuels who stood out. No performance was bigger than his 142 yard outing against the New England Patriots in Week 15, and he finished the season with 56 attempts, and 256 yards for a 4.6 yards per carry.
Not shabby for a running back who didn’t have a role entering the season, other than being the backup to both Conner and Stevan Ridley. By the season’s end, Samuels had proven he isn’t just going to be a quality backup in the future, but a reliable commodity if he is forced into action. Throw in the fact he is a tremendous receiving threat, collecting 26 receptions on 29 targets for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he is going to be a great one-two punch with Conner for the foreseeable future.
When sitting down with Missi Matthews of Steelers.com, Samuels talked a lot about his rookie season. How he didn’t know what to expect, how Ben Roethlisberger and Conner really helped him get acclimated, but what stood out the most to me was something he subtly said midway through the interview — how he is going to slim down this offseason.
NFL players have a tendency to believe they need to get bigger before entering the NFL. After all, with going against players who are already older, bigger and stronger, they feel the extra muscle/size will benefit them. What they don’t realize is speed, agility and endurance are equally important.
Look at the past three starting Steelers running backs, and you will see the same trend. Le’Veon Bell was told to drop weight after his rookie season, and had a huge sophomore season when he focused on conditioning over anything else. James Conner too was heavy coming out of Pitt, but a slimmer version dominated in 2018 before his injury in the last quarter of the season.
It now seems as if Samuels will be on the same path as his predecessors, and you have to wonder if Year 2 will be significantly different for Samuels, as it was for Conner and Bell.
You can check out the full interview with Matthews in the player below:
Jaylen Samuels takes a look back at his rookie campaign, who he looked to for guidance, improving for 2019, the feeling of his first touchdown and more. pic.twitter.com/S2GNRe76O8— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 14, 2019