Samuels went to the NFL Scouting Combine as a tight end. At N.C. State, he finished with more receptions (201) than rushes (182). And he never took more than 12 carries in a game during his college career.
Despite the lack of running reps, ahead of Sunday’s tilt versus the Oakland Raiders, Samuels said he’s ready to show he’s a “true running back.”
“I definitely imagined it because I knew I wasn’t a tight end in the National Football League,” Samuels said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I imagined myself doing what I’m doing.”
At 6-foot, 225-pounds, N.C. State coaches defined Samuels as an H-back, per NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, deploying him in multiple roles, but mostly using him as a pass-catcher.
The Steelers used a fifth-round pick on a player without a defined position, envisioning him as a chess piece that can stress a defense out of the backfield.
During his rookie season, Samuels has mostly played special teams. He’s seen more than seven offensive snaps in just two games: The blowout victory over the Panthers, and last week’s loss to the Chargers after Conner went down.
On his offensive snaps, Samuels has lined up 74 percent in the backfield, 15 percent in the slot, 9 percent out wide and took just one snap from a tight end position, per Next Gen Stats. He has generated 12 total carries (five coming in the blowout win over Carolina) and seven receptions, including two touchdowns.
Samuels is looking forward to proving he’s an NFL running back.
“It’s a heck of an opportunity,” Samuels said. “I just want to cherish the opportunity and make the best out of it. Just to play true running back in the National Football League, that’s tough and it’s hard, but if you come well-prepared like I’m going to come well-prepared for this Sunday, you should have a good outcome.”
Sans Conner, the Steelers are likely to lean more heavily on the passing game, with Samuels a threat out of the backfield. Veteran RB Stevan Ridley could get most the carries, and Samuels’ playing the receiving role.
Regardless of how the snaps break down, Samuels has a chance to prove he can be a matchup nightmare in the first extended work of his pro career.