The Chargers took Asante Samuel Jr. with the 15th pick in the second round of the NFL draft. Putting a relatively good amount of capital into his selection. At his Pro Day, he clocked in a 4.52 second, 40-yard dash. Samuel had a vertical leap of 35.5 inches and repped the bench press at 225 lbs, nine times. His NFL measurables came in well below average for a top-tier prospect, earning himself a 51/100 grade compared to his peers. The NFL draft gives him a prospect score of 6.24, which indicates an immediate backup with the potential to possibly be a starter.
It’s important to get a baseline understanding of how the rest of the NFL community views him when coming to our own conclusions. Chargers fans and a lot of pundits were super high on his draft grade, exclaiming how great a fit he was for the team. The Chargers who are going to rely heavily on Coach Staley’s 3-4 defense, does indeed seem like a good fit so Samuel. They’ve got playmaking defensive ends, and run stoppers at the safety position. That should allow Samuel a lot of opportunities to play in man coverage, which is where he excelled at Florida State.
It is tough to get a full read of his true skill palette at FSU, because most opponents would just avoid him and target his teammates instead, having an overall terrible defense last year. Where does Samuel Jr. lay in his quest to become a Pro-Bowler as a rookie? Let’s take a look at some of his competition first, and then see what he does well compared to them.
If you want to be a Pro-Bowler, that means you have to be as good if not better than your competition. The four guys who made the AFC Pro-Bowl roster last season were Tre’Davious White, Xavien Howard, Marlon Humphrey, and Stephon Gilmore. I broke down how they played last season to compare it to Samuel.
There are a number of ways to be successful in the NFL at the corner spot, and these four guys play fairly differently from one another. It’s an obvious take, but these dudes are incredible. The one trait I noticed in common between all four of them is their understanding of the routes their opponents are going to run. They know what they’re looking to accomplish, and how to push guys into the most advantageous spots for themselves. You often see them leading guys in a different direction than their QB was ready for. When quarterbacks make throws, they already know what spots to be in to make a play.
The second biggest trait I noticed is their physicality at the point of attack. When the ball was headed their way, they all had an incredible presence when it came to getting their hand between the ball and the receiver’s hands. There is a range of physicality that comes with these four Pro-Bowlers, and you can see how some of them use their physical presence in order to give them an extra edge on the field. All of them being plus in run stoppage and blitzing the QB.
You see especially Marlon Humphrey who is so physical, that oftentimes guys can’t hang onto the football because he’s hitting them so hard. You don’t necessarily need to be that physical to be a great corner, but it sure adds a heck of a dynamic to fall back on. Let’s compare this to Samuel and his film breakdown.
The biggest knock on Samuel is his physical presence on the field. Which doesn’t actually mean anything, because he is roughly the size of White. And he’s not really getting burned by a lot of opposing receivers. But it does translate to other effects on the football field. Let’s look at his weak spots, and then go into what he does well.
Samuel gets knocked for being a smaller guy, and tackles like he doesn’t have real knockdown power as a result. You can see him getting blown up by receivers in blocks, and having to attack player’s lower bodies in the open field. His size doesn’t allow him to be the same type of run stopper or blitzer as Howard or Humphrey.
He also has a tendency not to be physical with guys at the line of scrimmage as soon as they get off their blocks, which forces him to react a lot of times rather than lead the receivers where he wants them.
Some of the good attributes that make him a pro prospect are the physicality at the point of catch I spoke about earlier. He does indeed have that natural ability to get his hands in the receiver’s catch zone, making it really difficult for guys to follow through with catches. Knocking balls down, and making guys adjust to where they want to naturally catch the ball in rhythm. Sometimes he is a little too physical and gets called for flags, but that’s easily fixed. His hips are excellent and when he’s in the open field, you often see him shift three or four times in one play to stay with someone as their route changes.
While that’s a plus ability, he wouldn’t need to switch his hips so often if he was leading his receivers with his hips, to begin with, something Gilmore feasts off of. By knowing the opponent’s playbook better, Samuel can start pushing guys into spots they’re uncomfortable with before the play starts. Like the other Pro-Bowlers, he has a good understanding of route breaks and anticipation of where the ball is going to go. Knowing where the play is going to be made, and putting himself in that spot.
Samuel does a lot of the intangibles well and that’s what makes him such a good prospect. The most important skills a corner needs he is already built-in with, he anticipates routes well and gets into your face as you’re trying to make a catch. Those are the instincts of a kid who has been coached well and taught the game by a successful corner like his father.
If he can control the line of scrimmage better by leading and being physical, the sky’s the limit for Samuel. Especially since he shows those traits in the second and third levels.
The lower-level attributes definitely need work, but those are traits that are much easier to work on. You’d rather a guy show you the high-level traits and fix the small stuff like being physical with blockers and making better tackles in the run game. Asante Samuel is definitely going to be a starter in the league this season, and if he can make a few tweaks to his game, he could even be a Pro-Bowler.