While he only played for 12 snaps, Curtis Samuel showed that he belonged on the field. Coming back from a heart procedure, he picked right up from where he left off with an elite showing. From running over multiple defenders to the end-zone, running crisp routes, and getting massive separation, he did it all. He looked like a WR1 the whole time he was on the field.
Furthermore, Ron Rivera comments the only reason Curtis Samuel did not play more snaps was simply due to conditioning; a fixable issue. After all, he did just come back from a four week absence from heavy physical activity. It's not too surprising to hear he was out of breath on the field at times.
Either way, Curtis Samuel proves he's more than worthy of getting an increase in workload. As long as his conditioning is on par, he should maintain a high level of snaps. Every time he's on the field, he's a big play-making threat as a receiver and after the catch. He has shown he's just as elite as his college tape was and furthermore.
So, just how elite was Curtis Samuel last Sunday? Well, take a look below to see.
A Virtuoso At Separation
For a wide receiver, route running is an art. From technique, athleticism, and skill, there are a whole host of variables going into every route. Very few are able to accomplish the art of route-running at its highest level.
However, just in his second year, Curtis Samuel is already showing promise of being one of those few.
Just take a look at the play below.
On the play above, the Panthers are in a 3x1 formation with Curtis Samuel as the "X" receiver. His job as the solo receiver is to simply beat his man on a deep out and make the catch.
Of course, this job is easier said than done. Unless the receiver in question is Curtis Samuel.
The corner is basically playing off and outside leverage, meaning he's daring Samuel to play down the middle of the field. His goal is to keep Samuel going inside and prevent him from going flat towards the sidelines. If he goes flat towards the sideline, the corner doesn't have a safety over the top and he has to win a 1v1 battle against Samuel.
Unfortunately for the corner, Samuel is impossible to guard off this route.
Coming out, Samuel sells the inside and gets the corner comfortable in pursuing that route. However, once he notices that corner breaking, he resets himself quickly and flattens out towards the sideline. The corner is unable to recover fast enough and finds himself trailing Samuel as he approaches the sideline.
From the snap, Cam Newton shows a high level of trust in Samuel already. His helmet already faces the direction of Samuel from the snap, showing how he's already the primary check for Newton. Soon, Newton releases the ball to an open Samuel for an easy looking completion.
Later on, the Panthers go back to that same play off the 3x1. This time, the play is working towards the left sideline.
As seen, Samuel once again leaves the corner in the dust once he bites towards the inside fake. Curtis flattens out and goes towards the sideline wide open. Unfortunately, somehow a seven-man protection couldn't hold against four linemen and Cam had to throw it away.
Either way, Curtis shows fantastic ability at getting separation and route running. He needs to see far more snaps from the X in the near future.
Excelling Against 1v1 Man Coverage
For a wide receiver, a solid release and ability to beat man coverage is critical for having success at every level. The ability of one being able to "pull a basketball move" and fake out his defender is critical for most. In the NFL, Vikings WR Stefon Diggs' recent release went viral on twitter over how similar it looked to a basketball move.
Curtis Samuel most definitely is effective on his release and faking out defenders in man coverage. While there were little examples last Sunday of Samuel's ability on the line, the following still shows Samuel's solid moves against man coverage.
On this play above, the Panthers are running a slot-fade with Curtis as the primary target. For those who are curious, this is more of a variation of the flat-fade from the smash concept. The Eagles ran it multiple times last season to great success. The goal of this play is to take advantage of the 1v1 matchup from the slot and the extra space from there provided near the sideline.
The Panthers have Christian McCaffrey motion to the outside to create the 1v1 match-up from the slot for Curtis. At the snap, Curtis comes out and runs the fade against his man. Using a solid cut, he causes his defender to stop and hesitate. After that, he runs towards the outside and darts forward. As a result, Samuel easily beats his man and finds himself free towards the end-zone.
Unfortunately, Cam isn't on the same page as Curtis and tries to force a back-shoulder. Of course, the Eagles ran this concept plenty of times with a back-shoulder put in, which could be a reason for Cam doing such. It may be that Cam needs far more reps with Samuel to understand exactly how he plays and what he will generally do.
Either way, Cam misses a critical opportunity for a walk-in touchdown. Samuel shows expert ability at winning 1v1 match-ups against man and ability at making defenders lose. He needs to see far more snaps wherever he is on the field.
After The Catch Monster
One thing many Panthers fans will bring up is DJ Moore's ability after the catch. PFF's stats have him as the best with an average of 12.3 YAC. He's a fantastic monster with the ball in his hands and essentially turns into a runningback.
However, what most forget about is Curtis' ability after the catch. After all, he has plenty of experience at runningback from OSU. He knows how to break tackles and gain extra yards after contact as well.
And that showed immediately on Curtis' first reception and TD of the season.
The Panthers run a very fun concept with motion, misdirection, and a whole bunch of moving parts. Essentially, Curtis Samuel is the target in what finally turns out to be a tunnel screen.
However, it's what happens once the ball is in his hands that truly is spectacular to see.
He runs through multiple tackles and breaks through them as he continues his pursuit. Spinning and keeping his balance, he's able to continue forward on his monstrous run. Soon, more defenders come into the picture and attempt to grab Samuel down. However, the former Buckeye completely stiff arms nearly three Giants defenders as they fall to the ground. Finally, Curtis leaps for the end-zone after a rewarding incredible run.
All this stuff has been the case since his time in college. Curtis is a monster with the ball in his hands. His combination of speed, athleticism, and power is beautiful to see. Alongside DJ Moore, Samuel is just as effective after the catch.
This was just incredible.
Whatever the case may be, the Panthers offense will only be better with more Samuel on the field. He has plenty of traits giving evidence towards the idea he can be a WR1 in the NFL. From his precise route-running, ability after the catch, and speed, he can be a threat at all three levels on the field.
One person he could potentially take snaps from is Torrey Smith. While Torrey the person is fantastic and his work in the community amazing beyond football, his skills as a player are lacking. Very rarely has Smith made many impactful plays more-so than being a liability. Samuel should be seeing more of the snaps Torrey is getting.
Smith would be fine as a mentor and occasional target on a limited number of snaps. He's a great leader and person in general while also being well liked and fiery defending his teammates. However, despite that, what should instead be the case is the Panthers putting their best on the field. I question if Torrey Smith is that answer.
Curtis Samuel has already shown from last Sunday he has the skills and ability of being an explosive play-maker. He shouldn't be thought of as a mere "second year receiver" with how high his level of play already is. He should be considered a large threat in the NFL that needs to be used as much as possible.
Either way, Curtis Samuel is an emerging star in the NFL. His performance last Sunday was only the tip of the iceburg of his full potential. The Panthers need to realize that and unleash the potential monster this young man will be.