NFL tailbacks, more than ever, have to be Swiss Army knives. Blockers. Decoys. Slot receivers. Quarterbacks (hello, Wildcat). Wide receivers. The more you’ve proven you can handle on a big-time college stage, the more appealing your draft stock is going to be.
In other words, it’s a good time to be Curtis Samuel.
The junior out of New York City is the most fun toy Ohio State coach Urban Meyer gets to play with, moving him around the chess board as the moment suits. Over three quarters of a stunning 62-3 emasculation of a ranked Nebraska team, the tailback/specialist/whatever accounted for 173 all-purpose yards, with 75 coming on a touchdown pass that opened the third quarter.
Samuel fits just about anywhere the offense needs a game-breaker — including the boundaries. He’s on pace to become the first tailback since Wisconsin’s Brian Calhoun in 2005 to finish among the top 10 qualified Big Ten skill players in receptions (52 in nine games) and, even more unusually, currently ranks second in the conference to Northwestern wideout Austin Carr in catches per game (5.8).
NFLDraftScout.com projects Samuel as a receiver at the next level, but there are enough pieces in the tool kit to make just about any fit work — and work well. And it’s moved him up in the Land of 10’s weekly ranking of the conference’s top running backs, too:
10. Kendrick Foster, Illinois (Previous: NR)
Last week: 17 carries, 146 yards, 2 rushing TDs; 1 catch, 4 receiving yards
Season: 94 carries, 596 yards, 7 rushing TDs; 7 catches, 39 receiving yards, 2 TD catches
Why he’s here: Fun little fact — when the 5-foot-9 Foster runs for at least 100 yards, the Illini are 3-0. The problem? It doesn’t happen often, and Team Lovie is 0-6 otherwise.
9. Devine Redding, Indiana (Previous: NR)
Last week: 18 carries, 73 yards, 1 rushing TD; 4 catches, 32 receiving yards, 1 TD catch
Season: 167 carries, 793 yards, 4.7 ypc; 19 catches, 143 receiving yards, 2 TD catches
Why he’s here: Steady even as injuries have run roughshod over the offensive linemen in front of him, the junior tailback has picked up 203 rushing yards and three total touchdowns over the last two weekends in big, right-the-ship victories over Maryland and Rutgers. Could he help the Hoosiers shock the world against Penn State?
8. De’Veon Smith, Michigan (Previous: NR)
Last week: 19 carries, 114 yards, 3 rushing TDs; 1 catch, 17 receiving yards
Season: 109 carries, 564 yards, 5.2 ypc, 8 rushing TDs; 11 catches, 38 receiving yards, 0 TD
Why he’s here: The closest thing to a bell cow in Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh’s tailback rotation, the senior out of Ohio recorded his third game of at least 75 rushing yards over the last six games. The Hawkeyes’ run defense should prove a sterner test than the Terps, although the Black & Gold didn’t seem to faze Saquon Barkley all that much last week.
7. Akrum Wadley, Iowa (Previous: 7)
Last week: 9 carries, 28 yards, 0 rushing TDs; 5 catches, 32 receiving yards, 1 TD catch
Season: 99 carries, 664 yards, 6.7 ypc, 8 rushing TDs; 23 catches, 220 receiving yards, 2 TD catches
Why he’s here: The Hawkeyes’ home-run threat could find tough sledding again. Slightly more than 19 percent of Wadley’s attempts have gone for 10 yards or more. The Wolverines are only allowing a rush of 10-plus yards on 11.3 percent of their opponents’ carries.
6. Justin Jackson, Northwestern (Previous: 6)
Last week: 13 carries, 42 yards, 0 rushing TDs; 1 catch, 1 receiving yard
Season: 201 carries, 910 yards, 4.5 ypc, 6 rushing TDs; 23 catches, 146 receiving yards
Why he’s here: The good news: The best two defenses (Ohio State, Wisconsin) the Wildcats’ workhorse will see all year are in the rear-view mirror. Even better news? Here comes Purdue, which is giving up yards — 248.3 on the ground per game and 26 opponent rushing TDs — the way Oprah used to give away cars.
5. Corey Clement, Wisconsin (Previous: 3)
Last week: 32 carries, 106 yards, 1 rushing TD; 2 catches, 11 receiving yards
Season: 193 carries, 805 yards, 4.2 ypc, 7 rushing TDs; 6 catches, 37 receiving yards
Why he’s here: Not all NFL scouts may be convinced of the New Jersey native’s goods at the next level, but he’s racked up 486 yards over the past month — the best four-game stretch of his Badgers career.
4. Rodney Smith, Minnesota (Previous: 5)
Last week: 24 carries, 153 yards, 3 rushing TDs; 2 catches, 10 receiving yards
Season: 177 carries, 954 yards, 5.4 ypc, 13 rushing TDs; 15 catches, 139 receiving yards
Why he’s here: One of the conference’s best-kept secrets is becoming less of one by the week. In six Big Ten games, Smith has run for eight scores and failed to reach the 100-yard mark just once — in a home loss to Iowa back on Oct. 8 (44 yards).
3. Mike Weber, Ohio State (Previous: 2)
Last week: 11 carries, 72 yards, 1 rushing TD; 1 catch, 15 receiving yards
Season: 140 carries, 842 yards, 6.0 ypc, 7 rushing TDs; 18 catches, 90 receiving yards
Why he’s here: Like the rest of the starters, Weber was pulled three-quarters through the game against the Cornhuskers with things well in hand. Would’ve gone over the century mark if he’d stayed in, too — the Buckeyes ran it 15 times for 83 yards in the fourth quarter.
2. Curtis Samuel, Ohio State (Previous: 4)
Last week: 5 carries, 41 yards, 0 rushing TD; 8 catches, 137 receiving yards, 2 TD catches
Season: 76 carries, 599 yards, 7.9 ypc, 5 rushing TDs; 52 catches, 676 receiving yards, 5 receiving TDs
Why he’s here: The New Yorker left a pretty decent Nebraska defense in shambles — to say nothing of his dust: 13 touches, 178 total yards, 13.7 yards gained on average every time he touched the ball.
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State (Previous: 1)
Last week: 20 carries, 167 yards, 1 rushing TD; 1 catch, 44 receiving yards, 1 TD catch
Season: 167 carries, 1,055 yards, 6.3 ypc, 11 rushing TDs; 15 catches, 257 receiving yards, 2 TD catches
Why he’s here: Because isolating him against a linebacker — any Big Ten linebacker — is just plain cruel:
REPLAY: Come for the easy Barkley catch and run. Stay for the high-step.https://t.co/Va54X33Bt0
— Derek Levarse (@TLdlevarse) November 6, 2016