by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The rookie getting the bulk of the attention for the Carolina Panthers is Christian McCaffrey, and rightfully so. However he wasn’t the only player selected in an effort to help change the offense. WR Curtis Samuel was an early second round pick, and while a hamstring injury has helped to derail his rookie campaign thus far the upside remains.
He made his preseason debut Thursday night, and as Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer noted (click here for the article) the team seemed intent to get him incorporated and up-to-speed in short order:
Mike Shula looked like he was trying to make up for lost time with Samuel. The second-round wideout from Ohio State, was targeted six times, most of which were quick hitters out on the edge. Samuel finished with four catches for 15 yards, and a long catch of 7 yards. Those are pedestrian numbers, but it was signficant work for a player who – like Christian McCaffrey – was drafted to help evolve the offense.
Obviously Kelvin Benjamin is going to be the team’s top receiver and the presence of Greg Olsen at tight end gives them two top pass catchers. There also is going to be a focus on the running game, with McCaffrey (who should get ample opportunities to produce in the passing game as well) and Jonathan Stewart sharing the work. That’s four players already, but there is an opening beyond them.
Devin Funchess is the favorite to operate as the WR2, and maybe he finally puts it together in this third season. However over his first two years he’s turned 123 targets into just 54 receptions. A big play threat (15.6 yards per reception), he could continue as a boom or bust threat and little more.
Of course Samuel could be a similar gimmick type player, with Walter Football comparing him to Percy Harvin prior to the draft. At the same time, there are also obvious concerns as they said:
Samuel isn’t big enough to pound the ball between the tackles as an NFL feature running back. He will have to be used sparingly as a running back and become more of a receiver. There is some concern with a player like Samuel being a tweener and not having a position, but if he develops more as a receiver, he should be a real asset for a pro offense. Samuel could use NFL coaching to develop his overall polish as a receiver.
The injury obviously has delayed his development, and while the team may try to get him going quickly it’s going to take some time. Don’t look for him to make much of an impact in the early weeks, especially as he needs to develop a rapport with Cam Newton, but it’s possible he could develop into an option in the second half (though still as more of a boom or bust play). If you play in a deep enough keeper league, that makes him an intriguing draft and stash.
Sources – NFL.com, ESPN, Charlotte Observer, Walter Football
Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Preseason Rankings: