INDIANAPOLIS — One man’s Percy Harvin is another man’s Reggie Bush. As an NFL prospect, Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel presents like an inkblot test in cleats, a Rohschach with range.
A tailback with wide receiver traits? Or a receiver who can play tailback in a pinch? Look closer. Do you see a dog’s face? Or two bunnies playing patty cake?
“We’ve got him as a wideout,” longtime NFL scout Dan Shonka, general manager at Ourlads.com, told Land of 10. “That’s the way we look at him.
“He was one of those where, obviously, Urban Meyer was trying to use him like he did (Percy) Harvin at Florida, moving him around a lot. I think for the NFL, I don’t think he’ll be like a Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey had better route-running skills and things. I think because of his speed, I think most people are going to use him as, and he will probably be drafted as, a wide receiver. So we’ve got him as a wide receiver.”
The NFL has him there, too — for now. Samuel will lift with the wideouts Friday at the 2017 NFL combine and run with them on Saturday.
And the last bit will be of particular interest, at least where the former Buckeyes H-back’s destiny is concerned. Pro Football Focus analyst Josh Liskiewitz figures it’s in Samuel’s best interests to post a 40 in the 4.45-ish range on Indy’s slow track — “if he goes anything above that, I think it’s going to be a little bit of a disappointment,” the analyst noted — and prove to the eyeballs on hand that he could return punts or kicks in a pinch.
“I don’t want to compare him to another player,” Liskiewitz continued, “(but imagine) how New Orleans ended up using Reggie Bush once they realized they couldn’t run him between the tackles.
“I think (Samuel) can be a fantastic slot guy, once he learns to run routes. I think you can get different mileage, once he learns to do different things out of the backfield. When he’s doing swing passes, screens, wheel routes — I think you can do all kinds of things with him out there. The whole point is you want to get him in space, where he gets to run after the catch. Or it’s out of the backfield and doing it that way. That’s fine, too. I think you just want to find unique ways to get him the ball where he has more room to operate and you can take advantage of his speed and elusiveness.”
A crap throw but that cut and burst to gain inside leverage and separate is insane. Curtis Samuel can be a major asset to an NFL offense. pic.twitter.com/ta6AllfUEi
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) February 9, 2017
The projection is more of a specialist, a situational weapon. At 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds, Samuel’s not going to help protect the quarterback on third down. You don’t crash him into the ‘A’ gap and hope like hell for the best. The reviews on the hands are mixed, and scouts say the route-running, at the moment, is all over the place.
Like Harvin and Bush, it’s going to be about fit. The right scheme. The right offensive coordinator. A club who either has a need for a vertical mismatch in the slot, or someone who knows how to maximize his particular skill set.
Or, ideally, both.
“The thing he’s got is, he’s got explosive, straight-line speed,” Shonka noted. “And he’s got that shake to him. He’s got that june bug change of direction. He gets to top speed really quickly.
“Dan Reeves used to know how to use guys like this, very versatile. A lot of (coordinators) don’t have much imagination. Tavon Austin was wasted down in St. Louis earlier in his career. A guy’s got to go to the right spot.”
Liskiewitz is partial to Oakland, given the Raiders are on the climb and have just about every other skill position facet — boundary receivers, tailback, quarterback — squared away, assuming signal-caller Derek Carr picks right back up where he left off.
“And they just don’t have a steady No. 3,” Liskiewitz explained. “They have two guys on the outside, and they’re interchangeable, but they didn’t have that guy on the inside. They don’t have that receiver-slash-running back right now. And he can do so many things inside while the rest of the secondary is occupied with those two (outside) receivers like that. I think a place like that would just be killer.”
“They could use him in the slot, like New England (does with Julian) Edelman and Danny Amendola, and like Wes Welker used to be,” Shonka added. “I think that’s probably as good a spot for him as any.”
Plopping Samuel in with the wide receivers this weekend could end up being a good spot, too, at least where the stopwatch gallery is concerned. Can they trust the hands? Trust the routes? Trust the separation? Do you see a butterfly? Or a Christmas tree?
“I don’t see any reason why he can’t do all of the above,” Liskiewitz said. “I really don’t. You look at what New England does with running backs, for instance. Those guys are in the slot all the time … if he’s in the backfield, he’s not going to be doing things like pass-blocking. I think he’s a chess piece to move all over the place.”
One man’s rook is another man’s bishop. Your move, No. 4. Your move.