Jaylen Samuels deserves all the recognition

Posted September 12

FILE - In this July 29, 2017, file photo, North Carolina State's Jaylen Samuels runs the ball during the team's first NCAA college football practice of the season in Raleigh, N.C. The senior has a combined 29 rushing or receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons while lining up at running back, receiver and tight end for the Wolfpack. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

— He's not the fastest guy. Not the tallest guy, nor the largest guy. He's just THE GUY.

He is Jaylen Samuels. And while he doesn't fit neatly into any one box, be it receiver, tight end or running back, he's proven he's a unique threat worthy of every ounce of praise he receives.

So worthy and yet also so hard to define, the ACC introduced an "all-purpose back" position to their preseason media voting this year in direct response to his versatile greatness and the need to recognize it. (Yes, Samuels was overwhelmingly named the first recipient of that award.)

On Saturday, Jaylen again did what Jaylen does. He punished a Marshall defensive back at the end of a run from scrimmage by lowering his shoulder, driving through the Herd defender in a pop that could be heard in the upper decks. He caught a deep touchdown off a reverse flea-flicker in which he took the initial handoff, dragging defenders into the end zone.

And of course, he made college football highlight reels far and wide on a bobbling, acrobatic catch from the seat of his pants.

Samuels is State's best offensive weapon precisely because he doesn't fit neatly into any of the roles we assign football players. If you try to negate him as a pass catcher, he'll simply gash you on a sweep or run between the tackles. If you try to take away his running ability, it opens up the ability for him to slip behind you into the flats.

Last year, in his first season as Wolfpack offensive coordinator, Eli Drinkwitz heard grumbles at times that he wasn't doing enough to feature Samuels. In a close game late, Samuels could sometimes go missing in the play calling.

Drinkwitz seems hellbent in 2017 atoning for that mistake. Samuels caught 15 of Ryan Finley's 45 completions in the South Carolina game on 17 targets, and added another five catches and two rushes against Marshall. As News & Observer beat writer Joe Giglio noted following the South Carolina game, Samuels was on the field for over 80 percent of State's offensive plays, up from his average usage of about 55 percent from the year before.

It's important Samuels sees the field often because he's a threat when he's targeted, and he's a threat when he's not. His mere presence on the field opens up things for his teammates as defenses devote resources to stop him.

In some ways, Samuels reminds me a bit of a football equivalent to TJ Warren. TJ wasn't a perimeter jump-shooter, a lightning-quick guard or a flashy, high-flying post player. But Warren just scored. A jumpshot here, a drive to the basket there, a put-back shot near the rim. Before you knew it, TJ had 35 points and 12 rebounds. Samuels has that same kind of deadly versatility and ability to produce in spite of virtually every effort made by opposing defenses.

And like Warren, I hope we can all appreciate him in the moment. We've only got about 10 or 11 (maybe 12?) chances left to see him in action, health permitting.

The football gods only made one Jaylen Samuels, and NC State is fortunate on Saturdays to be able line him up on the field. The entire field.


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