As the NFL draft draws closer and closer here are some questions that are circulating that pertain to prospects and their draft stock as well as their potential and projected impacts at the next level.
Could South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel become the next Juju Smith-Schuster?
The Pittsburgh Steelers Juju Smith-Schuster has quickly become one of the brightest and polarizing talents on the field and personalities off the field. Since the team took him in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft out of USC with the 62nd overall pick he been one of the most dynamic and productive receivers in the league. Before the twitter beef between the two, he was a part of the most dangerous receiving duo in the game with All-Pro Antonio Brown during their time together in the Steel City before Brown was traded to the Raiders this offseason.
Smith-Schuster put up 58 catches, 917 receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns as a rookie and he followed that up with a fantastic sophomore season where led the team receptions (111), receiving yards (1,426), targets (111), was voted team MVP and made his first Pro Bowl.
Like the young Steelers star, Samuel is considered late first to early second round pick in this year’s draft coming out of South Carolina. He was electrifying for the Game Cocks during his collegiate career as their No.1 playmaker. He had some of brightest moments against some of the top competition in all of college football and competed in the SEC, which is considered the best and toughest conference in the nation.
Late last season he had the best game of his career against the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers. Samuel kept the Game Cocks competitive in the first half before the Tigers pulled away in the second half for what would be a 35-56 defeat. In a losing effort he racked up 210 yards on 10 catches and scored three touchdowns against a loaded Clemson defense that will have at least three players drafted in the first round and five in the top three rounds.
The same traits that have made Smith-Schuster so prolific in his first two seasons, are the same ones that Samuel brings to the table. He too possesses refined route running skills, out wide and slot versatility, and is extremely elusive in the open field. He is a threat to make a play or score a touchdown from anywhere on the field whether it’s taking a shallow route or quick screen the distance, or using a head fake and jab step to gain a free release at the line of scrimmage to get wide open near the goal line.
As rookie Smith-Schuster also contributed as returner as well, posting 240 yards on kick return on just nine attempts which included a long 96 yarder that he returned for a touchdown. Samuel was a dangerous returner in college and can do the same at the next level with the fluid and agile way he moves and makes people miss in the open field. He recorded 1,219 yards on kick return in college, which included a career high 570 yards in his senior season. He averaged 29 yards per return over his four seasons and is the programs all-time leader in return touchdowns with four.
Samuel has been impressing talent evaluators throughout the pre-draft process ever since he dominated the week of practice leading up to the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. He was the talk of the town during that week as videos of analyst breaking down and salivating over his film and clips of him besting some of the top senior prospects in practice prior to the All-Star game flooded the internet and social media.
At the combine he ran a respectable 4.48 in the 40-yard dash and looked good in on field drills showing off the fluidity and crispness that he runs his routes with as well as his consistent hands. While on the set of NFL Total Access last week he explained how his versatility to work in the slot and out wide separates him from the rest of the receivers in this year’s class.
“Not only am I a receiver, you can put anywhere out there on the field. I scored in every aspect of the game, throwing, running, recovering fumbles, I did it all” said Samuel. He also shared that he has no preference on where he lines up whether it is inside the slot or at wide because he believes he can dominate all over the field.