The Washington Football Team has strengthened the receiver position by adding former Carolina Panthers versatile wideout Curtis Samuel. Here are five things to know about one of the newest additions to Washington's roster.
1. He comes from a high school that produced Hall of Famers.
Washington fans might not know much about Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York, but they should now. It is where Samuel played running back during his teenage years, and it has given the NFL some of its all-time greats.
In addition to the numerous celebrities like Barbra Streisand, basketball stars like Billy Cunningham and even chess masters like Bobby Fischer, the Dutchmen have two representatives in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Al Davis, who was the longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders, and former Chicago Bears quarterback Sid Luckman.
Known for his mantra of "Just win, baby," Davis led the Raiders to immense success with three Super Bowl titles. Prior to the AFL merging with the NFL, he was the league's commissioner and won AFL Coach of the Year in 1963. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Luckman, who Chicago drafted No. 2 overall in 1939, was a three-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro with the Bears and played for 12 seasons. He led the league in passing yards three times and had 137 touchdowns in his career. Luckman was later inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965.
Samuel has a long way to go before he can be considered worthy of Hall of Fame recognition, but he certainly got off to a strong start with a stellar career at Erasmus Hall. Amassing nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns his senior year made him the No. 2 overall recruit in New York, according to ESPN, and he finished his four years with the Dutchmen as New York's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2013.
"Watching his game tape," receivers coach Zach Smith told Sports Illustrated in 2016, "was like watching a highlight tape."
2. He was one of a kind at Ohio State.
Samuel's ESPN high school recruiting page lists him as an athlete, and that is exactly how he was used during his three seasons at Ohio State. He put up solid numbers during his freshman and sophomore seasons -- 899 scrimmage yards and nine total touchdowns -- but he truly began to shine once he cemented a starting role in 2016.
There is only one player in the Buckeyes' history to have 1,000 career rushing and receiving yards, and that player is Samuel. He had 1,636 total yards during his junior year -- 771 rushing and 865 receiving -- to go with 15 touchdowns. His versatility earned him the nickname "Waldo" from Michigan State co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett because the Spartans were always trying to find where he was on the field.
"I don't think we can win without him," former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer told Sports Illustrated.
A prime example of that was Ohio State's double overtime victory against Michigan, which ultimately secured the Buckeyes' spot in the College Football Playoff. Not only did he supply Ohio State with 86 yards of offense, but he also scored the winning touchdown.
The Buckeyes were down by three at the Wolverines' 15-yard line. Samuel, who was lined up to the right of quarterback J.T. Barrett, took the handoff and sprinted to the left. With two blockers ahead of him, he planted his foot in the turf and turned upfield. He reached the second level with ease, and there were no defenders who could stop him from reaching the end zone to put the game away.
Samuel received first team All-Big Ten and All-American honors for his sensational final season with the Buckeyes. Head coach Ron Rivera and then-general manager Marty Hurney used the Carolina Panthers' 2017 second-round pick believing that same electric style would translate to the professional level. It would seem Samuel was brought to Washington in order to achieve the same goal.
"The more you can do, the better," Samuel told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "Sometimes when you have a running back...and you motion him outside as a wide receiver, and you bring a receiver in the backfield, a lot of defenses don't know what to do. They don't know what adjustments to make, so you catch them off guard."
3. He was a key cog in the Panthers' offense last year.
Samuel has progressively gotten better each season, and 2020 was by far his best with 851 receiving yards, 200 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Pro Football Focus recognized his efforts by giving him a 77.0 overall grade -- the best of his career.
But perhaps the stat that will grab Washington fans' attention the most is how he caught 77% of his deep pass targets, which was first among all receivers last year, according to PFF. One of his best grabs of the season came on a flea-flicker against the Atlanta Falcons. With the Panthers holding onto a one-point lead in the second quarter, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater slung a 29-yard strike to Samuel, who made the catch with ease and ran into the end zone.
Samuel is willing to do whatever his coaches ask of him, but his past experience of primarily being a running back makes playing in the backfield "natural" for him.
"There doesn't have to be too much coaching," Samuel said. "It's just my skillset and my talent and my ability just takes over. Playing receiver, I had to spend a little more time just running more routes, getting familiar with different angles and catching the ball, just small things."
Washington fans also received a good look at what Samuel can do when he made five catches for 106 yards and had seven carries for 52 yards in Week 16 last season.
"He's been a guy that does whatever we ask him to do," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said after the game. "Plays tailback, plays wide out, blocks, made a bunch of big catches today. I thought that run was really a special run that he made helping us in the run game. ...He's just an all-purpose guy and he's a tough guy, and I think when your best players are tough minded, you know hard-working guys, you have a chance to win. I think every time Curtis makes a play everyone's excited."
Samuel helped keep the Panthers' offense on the field in 2020 by converting 49 first downs. For an offense that finished 27th in first downs per game last year, having a player like Samuel will surely help open up the playbook.
4. He is another speedy option for Washington's offense.
One thing that is certain about offensive coordinator Scott Turner is that he likes to utilize players who can simply run away from defenders. Washington already had two offensive players who ran a sub-4.4 in their 40-yard dash times in Terry McLaurin (4.39) and Antonio Gibson (4.39), and now it has a third in Samuel.
Samuel was one of the fastest players at the 2017 combine, blazing across the finish line in 4.31 seconds, but even that does not completely speak to his athleticism. He also recorded a 4.33 20-yard shuttle and 7.09 three-cone drill. His former Panthers teammates quickly became familiar with his speed, as he routinely ran by cornerbacks during training camp.
"With that great speed, I'm not sure any great corner would have been able to stay up with him," Rivera said in 2019.
Samuel is always working on his speed and how he can use it to run crisp routes. It is something he has had to incorporate gradually -- he described himself as moving "robotically" in his rookie season -- but he has continued to add to his playing style to fit his skillset over the years. Entering his fifth season, he is set to add another wrinkle to Washington's offense.
"He's got foot speed that's rare," running back Christian McCaffrey said of Samuel. "Not just in the league. I'd say in the world. Being able to watch him really use his skills well and learn and develop has been a lot of fun."
5. "I now fear the Washington Football Team."
After days of speculation that Washington would sign Samuel, the team made those theories a reality by agreeing to terms with the wideout Wednesday night. Samuel is now set to be the No. 2 receiver the team coveted all last season, and it has drawn almost universal praise from national analysts.
Just ask The Undisputed's Skip Bayless, who said on Twitter "I now fear the Washington Football Team."
"I must admit publicly I love this move, because I love Curtis Samuel," Bayless said. "Unfortunately it's a steal for my arch rival, and it's exactly what they needed."
ESPN insider Field Yates said he loves the thought of McLaurin and Samuel in the same offense; The Athletic's Robert Mayes sees the trio of Samuel, McLaurin and recently-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as "pure entertainment"; and ESPN NFL analyst Mina Kimes called Samuel a "perfect fit with all the pre snap motion they use [in Washington]."
Samuel and McLaurin often talked about being on the same team at Ohio State. Samuel wanted to believe it was true, but he did not think it would actually happen. Now that it has, they are both ecstatic to be on the field together.
"Being able to play alongside your brother is different," Samuel said. "It's just experiences and moments [we] had together in college. ...Being able to share the same field, it's going to be great for us."
Wide receiver was one of the team's biggest needs entering this offseason, but that is no longer the case with the addition of Samuel. And while he does not want to spoil exactly what his role will be yet, he plans on being dynamic.
"Wherever my coaches put me on the field, whether it's blocking, receiving, whatever it is on the field, my job is to make things happen," Samuel said. "So just being able to be a team player and get the offense going."