Jaylen Samuels is an early roster favorite, but his lack of ability as an RB makes him a lackluster option for the Steelers defense
The Steelers have made some heavy investments in the RB position over the past few years, having added an RB in the draft every year since 2017. While the starter and backup are seemingly set with James Conner and Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland will serve as the change of pace back, third-year RB Jaylen Samuels is a questionable fit with the team. While there is a chance the Steelers keep four backs, Samuels should not make the final roster this year.
Coming out of college, Samuels was hyped as a versatile chess piece out of the backfield, serving as a runner and receiver before coming to the pros. There were questions about what role he would play in the pros, as talks of RB, FB, and even TE were thrown around. The Steelers opted to focus on developing him as a true RB in the NFL, but he has struggled with finding an effective role.
As a runner, Samuels offers very little in terms of ability. His rookie season looked ok statistically but digging into the tape his issues pop up early. He had his breakout game in week 15 when he ran for 142 yards with an impressive 7.47 yards per carry. While it isn’t fair to give all of the credit to the offensive line, the Steelers utilized a unique plan that involved a lot of running out of the shotgun, meaning Samuels had time for the line to open up holes for him.
Taking that game out of the equation, Samuels only rushed for 114 yards and averaged a lackluster 3.08 yards per carry. His sophomore season was even worse, rushing for 175 yards and averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. While he has decent vision, he lacks speed and power to be an effective runner. While he can take what the line gives him, he doesn’t do enough to be counted on effectively running the football.
For those that hype Samuels as a receiver, you would be sorely mistaken as well. Yes, Samuels can catch the ball, but he does little as a receiver with the ball in his hands. While he has caught an impressive 73 passes in his first two years, he has only averaged 6.9 yards per reception, a paltry and ineffective number all things considered.
He has good hands for an RB, but he struggles to do anything with the ball. As a pass-catching threat, he is akin to Ryan Switzer: a guy with good hands, but route running and YAC ability just aren’t there, making them ineffective when they do catch a pass. While he has played some special teams snaps, there are far more effective players out there for special teams’ ability.
He struggles as a runner, offers little as a receiver besides the ability to catch, and barely plays on special teams. Even if the Steelers were to keep four RBs, Samuels doesn’t make sense nor deserve the spot on the roster. Instead, the Steelers should keep Kerrith Whyte, a shifty and speedy back the Steelers added from Chicago’s practice squad last year.
While Whyte has his share of struggles, what he does provide is an element of breakaway speed. He touched the ball 25 times on offense last season and averaged 5.2 yards per touch, a good average for such limited work. The biggest issue for Whyte is his game shares similarities to rookie McFarland (shifty speed instead of power running). That said, Whyte would still be the fourth option on the depth chart.
As well, Whyte can serve as a returner. While that depth chart for returner is crowded, his value there outweighs the little value Samuels has on special teams. There is little value in replacing Samuels with a better runner like Whyte.
Again, the Steelers aren’t guaranteed to keep four RBs. If they do though, keeping Samuels on the roster isn’t the right choice. Keeping an option like Whyte and adding a power back to the practice squad makes much more sense. No matter what though, Samuels shouldn’t be on this roster at the start of the season. He is a jack of all trades, and master of none, making his value on the roster little and easily replicable by other options.