In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers elected to use a premium draft pick (second round, 40th overall) on a defacto wide receiver who had yet to solidify a true position, mainly possessing the skills often attached to an “offensive weapon”. Former Ohio State Buckeyes’ wide receiver Curtis Samuel was considered a raw fit at receiver who excelled with the ball in his hands. Entering his third season in the NFL, Samuel is slowly morphing into a fantastic receiver in his own right. Samuel still possesses the ability to create yardage with the ball in his hands, though his skill-set has diversified to include a nuance in route running and the ability to create major plays on all three levels of the field, including both in the slot and outside of the numbers.
Taking a look at 2018, Samuel was fourth on the Panthers’ team in targets with a total of 65. Samuel converted those into 39 receptions for 494 yards and five touchdowns. The reason the 2018 season is notable is due to the departure of former #1 receiver Devin Funchess who elected to sign with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency. A healthy season from tight end Greg Olsen is sure to eat into majority of those targets, though both Samuel and second-year wide receiver D.J. Moore are sure to see more opportunities to make plays as the top-two receiver options for former most valuable player, quarterback Cam Newton.
Samuel flashed enough potential and growth in the 2018 season to allow the Panthers to move on from Funchess in the offseason. Samuel’s ability to win in every facet is the reason he’s a player to look out for. As mentioned before, he was noted for his ability to be used as an offensive weapon coming out of OU, giving him the potential to become a better yards-after-catch (YAC) threat (92 total YAC per PlayerProfiler). His 4.31 forty-yard dash speed allows him to truly offer elite speed when taking the top off of a defense. Lastly, his improved route running will allow him to contribute in the intermediate part of the field.
Samuel only received 14.4% of the Panthers’ target share in 2018, good for 80th in the NFL. The more interesting number is the hog rate percentage which looks at the targets per snap to capture the rate of passing game utilization of a receiver. Samuel received a 14.4%, good for 28th in the NFL (all per PlayerProfiler). The number represents just how much the Panthers enjoyed featuring Samuel, regardless of how many snaps he was given. Samuel’s versatility is shown by his 56.7% snap share, 22.2% of which came from the slot. His snap share figure is good for only 107th in the NFL, leaving a lot of room for a major increase in snaps played.
When looking at the numbers as a whole for Samuel in 2018, certain factors become clear. The Panthers couldn’t find a lot of playing time for Samuel, for reasons only they know. When Samuel did find his way onto the field, he immediately became a player Cam Newton targeted repeatedly. Newton struggled with his health in 2018, though an offseason to regain his health could do wonders for his 2019 season.
By all accounts, Samuel has been a potent weapon in training camp for the Panthers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for a multitude of reasons, with the first being the development of Samuel himself. Samuel is truly getting a chance to hone his craft as a receiver first and a weapon second. The usage pattern of the speedy weapon is sure to see a more imaginative and appropriate path, lending him a shot to create productivity based on scheme and usage, not only talent. Lastly, the newly-opened opportunities and chance to build chemistry between Samuel and Newton is sure to leave a lasting imprint on the 2019 season.
When looking at receivers who are most likely to take a big step forward towards the upper-echelon in the league, Carolina Panthers’ Curtis Samuel headlines the list.