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Jaylen Samuels - Rookie Recap/Dynasty Outlook

The Pittsburgh Steelers focused on bolstering the running back position during the 2018 draft, selecting Jaylen Samuels in the fifth round. While he initially projected to be the team's third-string running back, Le'Veon Bell's season-long absence promoted Samuels to the backup chair.

Samuels was taken with pick 165 in the fifth round, making him the 14th running back to come off of the board in a loaded class. The 22-year-old was very versatile in college, having played running back, tight end, wide receiver, and fullback in his four-year college career. He entered the draft listed as a tight end but there was some ambiguity as to what position he would play in the NFL. What wasn't in question were Samuels' skills in the passing game, as he averaged 65 catches per season over his final three years at North Carolina State. In addition to his ability to catch the ball, he also has excellent speed for a man his size, posting an 81st percentile speed score according to Player Profiler.

He was generally taken in the fourth round or later in dynasty rookie drafts this past year but saw his value increase incrementally as the 2018 season went on. Heading into the 2019 season, what does the future hold for Samuels and how should he be regarded in dynasty leagues?

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Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
College: North Carolina State
Height/Weight: 6'0", 225 pounds
2018 NFL Draft: Round 5, Pick 165


Jaylen Samuels' Rookie Season

Samuels' rookie season got off to a slow start as he didn't record a touch until Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns. The slow start can be partially attributed to the red hot start by second-year running back James Conner, who flourished in the lead back role vacated by Le'Veon Bell. As a reserve, Samuels notched two receiving touchdowns over Weeks 10-13 before he finally got his big break. When Conner sprained his knee in Week 13, Samuels got a chance to shine the following week. In his three games from Weeks 14-16 as the team's lead back, Samuels averaged 16.9 PPR points per game.

Even though he didn't see the ball until Week 8, Samuels finished his rookie season with 26 catches for 199 yards and three scores while tacking on 256 rushing yards. Despite not being a full-time running back in college, he posted a respectable 4.6 yards per carry average while, at the same time, showing that he can be a plus asset in one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the NFL.


2019 Outlook

At 225 pounds, Samuels is big enough to absorb a full running back workload in the NFL. It is fortunate for him that the team that drafted him views him as a running back and not a tight end. He would have been too small to operate as an NFL tight end, even at the "move" tight end spot. Samuels posted several big receiving games for the Steelers and proved to fantasy owners that he has the requisite skill-set to be a force in the passing game. At the same time, his size allows him to an every-down, workhorse running back if the team calls upon him.

The main thing holding Samuels back, of course, is the presence of Conner on the roster. Conner heads into the 2019 season as the team's starting running back, which means Samuels would need an injury ahead of him if he hopes to slide into the starting role. Even with Conner on the roster, Samuels has a good chance at carving out a role as the team's third-down back which gives him some standalone value in PPR leagues for the upcoming season.


Dynasty Strategy

As a dynasty running back with true workhorse back potential and the pass-catching chops to be a plus asset in PPR leagues, I am treating Samuels as a strong buy candidate this offseason. While he doesn't project as the team's starter this season, he is a James Conner injury away from being a low-end RB1 in fantasy. That gives him plenty of dynasty value, especially considering how injury-prone the running back position can be.

If you have an interest in acquiring Samuels in dynasty, there are a couple of options to pursue. His value is around a 2019 third-round rookie pick, so you could try sending a third-rounder to his owner and see if that's enough to pry him free. I'm especially bullish on Samuels and I would be willing to consider sending a late second-rounder if the third wasn't enough to get the deal done. Another strategy would be to try getting Samuels added as a throw-in in a larger deal where he isn't the main piece coming back. This is one of my preferred strategies when trying to buy lesser-valued assets such as Samuels in dynasty.

As we saw with James Conner last season, a backup running back on a good NFL offense can be a league-winner if something happens to the projected starter. Samuels is already a plus pass-catcher and he has the size to be an every-down NFL running back if he gets the chance. He could very well end up being a league-winner in 2019 if he is able to ascend to the lead role. Even if he doesn't, he will get enough chances in the passing game to be a serviceable weekly flex option in PPR leagues.

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