This past Sunday with five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Curtis Samuel caught a screen pass at the 25-yard line.  Samuel would use speed, strength, and agility to knife through and overpower five New York Giants defenders to get into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

Healthy after an injury-riddled start to his career, Samuel was finally able to show fans why the Panthers took him in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. More importantly, Samuel put himself back on the fantasy radar as someone to roster in larger dynasty leagues.  Per MyFantasyLeague.com, Samuel is owned in less than 25 % of leagues currently.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jacob Kupferman/CSM/REX/Shutterstock (9036113e)
Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) during the NFL preseason football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers on in Charlotte, NC
NFL Steelers vs Panthers, Charlotte, USA – 31 Aug 2017

Strengths

Watching the clip of Samuel’s touchdown, it is quite evident speed and agility factor into his strengths.  Samuel was clocked at 4.31 in the 40 leaving college, which is pure lightning.  In college, Samuel took snaps in the backfield in addition to those as a wide receiver and is a threat to get the ball on jet sweeps.  

Samuel also benefits from being the 40th overall pick in the draft.  Coaches tend to give 2nd round draft picks more leeway than their lower round colleagues.  Even with his inauspicious start, the Panthers are incentivized to create opportunities for Samuel.

Weaknesses

Staying on the field has been an issue for Samuel.  In 21 regular season games dating back to last year, Samuel has been active for only 10 of them.  When he is active, Samuel averages only 3 targets per game. While this is a low number, the silver lining is that his speed makes him a potential home run threat on any play.

6’4 and 6’5.  The heights of Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin respectively.  Both Funchess and Benjamin have succeeded as wide receivers with Cam Newton under center partially because their size allows them to corral inaccurate throws and box out defenders.  Samuel is 5’9 and a different kind of receiver. Newton has been able to succeed with smaller receivers, Steve Smith Sr., but Samuel is far ways off from Smith Sr.’s talent.

Opportunities

Devin Funchess is in the last year of his contract, and while the Panthers are projected to have about $25 million in cap space, recent wide receiver contracts given to Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks may push Funchess out of the Panthers reach and send him elsewhere.  Samuel should also be able to surpass Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright on the depth chart and claim a starting wide receiver spot opposite rookie DJ Moore.

Another plus is that running back, Christian McCaffrey has succeeded in the Panther offense.  Samuel has similar athletic traits to McCaffrey so Samuel would be a potential replacement for McCaffrey’s receiver targets if McCaffrey were to suffer any sort of injury.

Threats

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While Samuel boasts second-round pedigree, the Panthers doubled down on the wide receiver position in the 2018 draft taking DJ Moore in the first round.  This puts Samuel behind McCaffrey, tight end Greg Olsen (when healthy) and potentially Moore in the line for wide receiver targets. In 2016, Newton was able to support Olsen, Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. with meaningful targets.  If Samuel is going to be fantasy relevant he will need to siphon targets from either Moore or Olsen, and that’s if Funchess does leave in free agency. If Funchess stays in Carolina, it might be two additional years and a turn in free agency before Samuel makes meaningful contributions.

Summary

 

Samuel’s path to fantasy relevance isn’t a clear one.  He needs the Panthers to make some roster decisions so he can compete for the opportunities currently going to Olsen and Funchess.  Samuel’s contributions on special teams, averaging 22 yards per kick off return, makes him valuable to the Panthers. While it may not make sense to roster Samuel in dynasty leagues with 20 roster spots, he should be considered in leagues rostering 25 or more players.  He offers more value on your roster than end of the line veterans like Brandon Marshall, Danny Amendola or Mike Wallace. This past offseason, fellow 2017 draftee John Ross saw his value surge when he finally became healthy and was able to put some games on tape in the pre-season.  If you can get Samuel free off waivers, by offering a late third round pick, or as a throw-in piece in a trade, you may be able to realize some gains immediately if Funchess leaves in the offseason.

 

The NFL is a copycat league and right now offenses are succeeding using quick running backs and wide receivers like McCaffrey, Tyreek Hill, and Alvin Kamara.  Curtis Samuel has the skills and athleticism to make those kinds of contributions, he just needs the opportunity.

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