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2021 NFL Draft profile: Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr.

Does an All Pro’s son fit the Fangio defense?

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Florida State v Miami
Samuel is one of my guys. Hope the Broncos consider him.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

George Paton spent his first free agency doing what he could to make sure the Broncos cornerback situation is better than he found it. Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to go with Bryce Callahan means Fangio will have the best trio of cornerbacks since he became head coach in 2019.

Questions remain.

Between the two of them, Darby and Callahan have played a complete regular season once since 2015. The depth chart behind them is littered with questions after Michael Ojemudia was benched during his rookie season while both Duke Dawson and Essang Bassey return from season ending knee injuries. Fuller and Callahan also see their contracts expire after the 2021 season and there’s no promise they’ll return.

With so much uncertainty around the group, it makes sense to invest draft capital into the cornerback room. Would Asante Samuel Jr. fit the system?

At a glance

A diminutive outside corner with just about everything else you want in a 5’10 180 lb. package. Asante Samuel can eventually take over the Bryce Callahan role as an inside/outside corner with the reactive athleticism, ball skills, and instincts to become one of the best corners in the league. His play strength and size aren’t going away, but he’s going to be a good one barring injury.

As his name implies, Samuel Jr. is the son of the same All Pro corner who picked off 51 passes across 11 seasons in the NFL. He grew up around the game as dad lead the league in interceptions and won Super Bowls. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote that Samuel Jr.’s motivated to escape his father’s shadow. If there’s only one draft analyst who really has a bead on that, it’s Brugler.

Growing up Samuel Jr. won 7A state titles his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons in high school. He received his first division one offers in eight grade and eventually narrowed down his choices before picking Florida State over

He started receiving offers in the eighth grade and eventually narrowed down his college choice to Florida State, LSU and Ohio State before committing to the Seminoles. I’m a Michigan fan and still believe if he’d become a Buckeye or Tiger, he’d be a first round lock.

Why he fits the Broncos

  • Started 23 of 32 games for the Florida State defense that plays a majority of their snaps out of MOFC shells using more man than zone coverage.
  • Team captain in 2020.
  • Head coach Mike Norvell sang his praises.
  • Has played outside, inside, and limited snaps at safety.
  • Tape over traits, he displays good athletic ability with very good quickness, agility, and good explosiveness.
  • Very good mental processing with the vision, recognition, and gambler’s mentality to bait quarterbacks. Trusts his gut and shows the knack for beating receivers on their breaks with his ability to anticipate an opponent.
  • Very good competitive toughness, he’s scrappy with the kind of short memory you need to thrive as an aggressive playmaker in the NFL.
  • Punches above his weight and won’t hesitate to stick his nose into carnage.
  • Very good in man coverage with the footwork, instincts, and short area agility to mirror and match his assignments. Thrives in off with his ability to draw looks and slam the window with the ball in the air.
  • Very good ball skills, he’ll fight tooth and nail to disrupt the catch point. Cues off an assignment’s movements and doesn’t back down from bigger opponents.
  • Good in a soft shoe technique and does a good job using his leverage to influence receiver.
  • When he’s proactive he can be slippery off blocks thanks to his quickness.
  • Good in the open field as he’s a good tackler who doesn’t shy away from contact, understands pursuit angles and how to leverage the ball back to help.
  • Good range, he’s plenty fast enough to play in deep zones or keep up with an opponent stride for stride downfield.

Reasons for concern

  • Short and small at 5’10 and 180 lbs. without the frame to add much if anything.
  • Opted out of the 2020 season after eight games to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. Worth noting that at this time FSU was 2-6 and had their upcoming games against Clemson and Virginia Tech postponed and eventually cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Samuel Jr. missed only one game, what became the season closing win over Duke.
  • Aggression can get the best of him and he’ll need to toe that line in the league where quarterbacks are better at making you pay.
  • Drew some dumb penalties being too grabby and the margin for error disappears in the league.
  • Marginal play strength overall will impact his ability to separate from blocks if they get home. Can get bullied by big assignments in the passing game which could show up in games against players like LA’s Mike Williams.
  • Will open hips too soon and can give up his blind spot too easily.
  • Can get into trouble locating the ball with his back turned and size will give him less margin for error in the league.
  • Won’t be as easy to play the brand of bait and switch he made a living off of in the ACC.
  • While he fights there will be issues against better jump ball threats in the league.
  • 30 1/8” arms beneath 25th percentile and he isn’t someone you’ll want jamming at the line of scrimmage.
  • Adequate run defender and he’ll get stuck on blocks due to his lack of length and strength.
  • While he gets guys down, he’s more of an ankle biter than hammer as a tackler.
  • I don’t foresee him being a true difference maker on blitzes.

What I’ve seen / heard / read

“Asante Samuel Jr. is a highly athletic, twitchy cornerback who needs to tighten up his man coverage technique to achieve his full effectiveness. He projects as a year one contributor who has the potential to be a high-end second boundary corner in year two.”

-Expand the Box Score

“Samuel has the mirror-match, transitional ability, and man coverage skills to be a starter at the next level, but his struggles against larger targets could hold him back and limit his overall ceiling.”

-Sports Info Solutions

“Samuel plays with outstanding reaction quickness and ball awareness to turn and locate or drive on throws in front of him. His lack of size shows up in coverage and against the run, but he is a heady player who trusts his skills, very similar to his Pro Bowl father. Overall, Samuel’s smallish frame isn’t ideal, but he is twitched up with the fluid athleticism and play confidence to stay connected to routes (flashes Jaire Alexander-type ability). He projects as an NFL starter capable of playing inside or outside.

-Dane Brugler

“Samuel has some elite traits that will go a long way toward making up for his lack of size. He has some of the slickest change-of-direction skills you will see at the position, and he can come out of his backpedal and drive on the football in an absolute instant. His tape is littered with plays where he steals yards on receivers by making their break before they do and puts himself in position to either contest at the catch point or pick the pass off entirely. These are the skills that made his father a ballhawk and will likely do the same for him.”

-Sam Monson, PFF

2021 NFL Draft: Building the best secondary from the 2021 draft class | NFL Draft | PFF

He’s excellent in press coverage, sure, but he’s elite in off coverage. Whether it’s off-man coverage or as a Cover 2 corner — which is what Florida State often tasked him to do — Samuel sees the play develop in front of him and uses his quick instincts to step in front of throws and get his hands on balls. While Surtain II is going to show the quarterback a picture and dissuade him from even throwing the ball in that direction, Samuel is going to exhibit a rosier picture, but he bursts out of his T-step and makes you pay. If FSU’s football team hadn’t completely crumbled, Samuel’s stock would be higher. He played at a high level every season, even if the defense around him faltered. FSU’s defense went from 57th in EPA per play in 2019 to 111th this past season, and that perception might be hurting the cornerback. Whichever team snags him in the 2021 NFL Draft is getting great value.

“I’m just trying to make my own way,” Samuel said. “It’s not about not wanting to be him, or whatever. Just me trying to showcase my ability to cover and make plays.

“Some of it is genetics, but I mean, I have always assumed nothing is just going to be given to me because of my name. I want to work for everything I have a shot at. That’s where the hard work pays off. If you don’t put in the time, eventually you’ll fail. I don’t want that to happen.”

Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports.

NFL draft: How FSU CB Asante Samuel Jr. differs from his dad

We see Samuel thriving best in a heavy zone and off-man system, possibly as a nickel. He should be given a chance to perform outside before making that call. Samuel might be on the small side and lose some physical battles, but he has the temperament to make it work in the long run. Any team seeking more playmaking in its secondary should make a run at him.

Asante Samuel Jr. Draft and Combine Prospect Profile | NFL.com

Cornerback with NFL bloodlines and disruptive strength to make contested catches a true challenge for wide receivers. Samuel has good feet, but average size and transition burst to shadow breaks. He allowed too many catches in front of his face, especially early in the 2020 season. He plays with good technique in closing out and crowding receivers headed down the field but has a tendency to go overboard when face-guarding, turning his coverage into flags. He has the traits and talent to turn some catches into incompletions with a change in approach. Samuel has nickel talent, but might just be average as a pro.

Asante Samuel Jr. CB Florida State - Draft Player Profile | The Draft Network

Samuel Jr. is a touch undersized, but he is outstanding in man coverage where his natural pattern matching instincts, loose hips, and quick feet make him tough to separate from. Despite not having ideal size, Samuel Jr. is a competitive run defender and tackler that gets his work done and isn’t a liability. While his frame may suggest to some that he’s slot only in the NFL, he’s in the mold of a Brandon Flowers/Denzel Ward and fully capable of playing wide in the NFL like he did in college—although he does have some experience in the slot. Where Samuel Jr. has room to grow is in his zone coverage reps and ball skills. He played mostly man coverage in college and he isn’t nearly as comfortable in zone reps. From a ball skills perspective, he isn’t consistent finding the ball in the air and getting his head around, creating issues when challenged with his back to the line of scrimmage. Samuel Jr. has the potential to start at the next level for a defense that plays a lot of man coverage and is willing to move him around to maximize his strengths.

Patrick Surtain II, Asante Samuel Jr., Jaycee Horn among best draft CB

Cover-6: Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State You do not want to bet against Samuel Jr., you do not want to automatically peg him as a slot guy because of his size, and you especially do not want to do either one of these things when Samuel Jr. is playing Cover-6 — “quarter/quarter/half” coverage in which a defense plays Cover-4 (Quarters) to one side, and Cover-2 to the other. Samuel didn’t play a ton of Cover-6 in 2020, but if we rewind to the 2019 season, he allowed three completions on five such targets for 21 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 30.0.

Final Thoughts

There are corners higher on my board, but there isn’t one I like as much as Samuel Jr. in this draft class. His issues against the run and bigger opponents hurt his overall stock, but his twitch, instincts, and scrappiness make him an ideal Fangio fit. If he can learn when to pick his shots he’ll flourish as a ballhawk who makes opposing quarterbacks pay in points.