The rookie Jaylen Samuels is ready to be Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting running back this Sunday as James Conner deals with an ankle sprain.
With Le’Veon Bell's decision to take an NFL sabbatical year and Conner ruled out after suffering an injury during last Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, coach Mike Tomlin has been forced to utilize the depth of his roster for next week game against the Raiders. This year’s draft fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels and veteran Stevan Ridley split time with the first-team offense during practice on Wednesday.
“That is our intentions as we sit here," Tomlin said (per 247 Sports) when asked about whether or not his team would use a back by committee on Sunday, "but we have a preparation week in front of us, and sometimes, a division of labor is revealed to us in that work. We got a great deal of confidence in Ridley, we got a great deal of confidence in Jaylen, particularly of late in Jaylen. He’s a guy that’s been on the rise in recent weeks. Trey’s a guy who has played pro football. We were excited about getting him on our practice squad when we acquired him. So we’ll put him in uniform and give him an opportunity to be a contributor as well."
Even though Tomlin isn’t clear whether Samuels or Ridley will see more snaps on Sunday's game, the rookie has indicated he will be the starter, which makes us believe that he would get most of the carries.
Throughout his college career at N.C. State, Samuels was listed as a running back, fullback, wide receiver, and tight end — the latter position is where he went to the NFL Scouting Combine. This season, the 20-year-old has been lined up mostly in the backfield although he has also been in the slot and out wide, where he notched two receiving touchdowns. Samuels, nevertheless, believes he has what it takes to be a true NFL 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."
"It's a heck of an opportunity," the former tight-end added. "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.”
Considering the absence of his superstar running back and the catching skills of Samuels, we should be expecting mostly an air game by the Steelers against Oakland where they use the rookie as a pass-catcher. Ben Roethlisberger even said on Wednesday that the team has already developed specific plays for Samuels in the passing game.