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Packers Prospect Primer: Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr.

Ball-hawking, play-making Asante Samuel Jr. fancies himself the next Jaire Alexander. The Florida State tape shows a corner who plays faster than he times and bigger than he measures. Still, does he fit in Green Bay?

Syndication: Tallahassee Democrat
Asante Samuel Jr. may not be big and he may not be fast, but that didn’t stop him from being a damn good football player.
Alicia Devine/Democrat via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Welcome back to our series on the Green Bay Packers draft. This is aimed at getting you ready for the 2021 class before Brian Gutkunst and Co. make selections. We take a look at the kinds of players the Packers tend to like at positions of need. That way you’re ready when they make a pick.

Asante Samuel Jr. shares more than just his size in common with Packers star Jaire Alexander: both guys want all the smoke. They play with swagger belied by their size, or perhaps a necessary product of it. Bigger receivers don’t bully them and tackling doesn’t scare them. They relish the challenge.

Samuel, at 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, faces questions about his fit in the NFL. Is he a slot? Can he play the boundary? At his pro day, one attended in person by Packers GM Brian Gutekunst, he says his play proves he can play anywhere.

“I’ve played outside all my life. I feel like I’m a dominant corner on the outside. I’m the same size as Jaire Alexander. Size doesn’t matter. It’s about the heart and dog mentality on the field.”

Dog mentality came up half a dozen times on a Zoom with reporters during Florida State’s pro day, one in which Samuel coolly answered questions about coverages, matchups, team meetings, and how having an NFL father prepared him for the expectations that come with playing in the pros.

Everything kept coming around to the dog mentality though, yet it never felt forced.

“I feel like man coverage is like a dog mentality. It’s you vs me and you’re not gonna win your rep cuz I’m a dog,” Samuel said, with each reference sounding more and more like he was reading quotes from Alexander.

Moments later, “Size doesn’t matter; I’m a dog.”

And so he is, with movement skills reminiscent of Casey Hayward, a fluidity and control that few young players possess. Samuel put up nearly 1,000 coverage reps in three years in Tallahassee, a time over which his Pro Football Focus grades increased each season as his passer rating when targeted fell.

In 2020, he posted a 46.2 passer rating against and a robust 82.8 coverage grade, 79.5 in zone coverage and 69.3 in man coverage.

If there’s one caveat for his fit with the Packers it’s that pesky size. Sure, he’s roughly equivalent to Alexander in size and approach, but Alexander ran 4.38 in the 40 with a 6.71 3-cone for a Relative Athlete Score of 9.5. He was undersized, but an elite athlete. Samuel can’t say the same, with high 4.4/low 4.5s in the 40, and a 3-cone just below 7. There’s just no comparing their athletic gifts.

What does Samuel look like on the field? Here’s more.

Pros

  • Relishes the chance to make a tackle
  • Had a beautiful INT vs. Georgia Tech in Cover-6 (I think)
  • So natural reading the QB’s eyes
  • Lurk INT as an underneath defender vs. GTech
  • PBU vs. Georgia Tech on a deep ball high point
  • Doesn’t play small
  • Glides around the field
  • Fluid hips
  • Moves like Casey Hayward
  • Redirects with ease
  • Doesn’t look twitchy but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good athlete
  • Deep speed doesn’t show up as a problem
  • Clicks and closes with burst
  • He’s almost a boring eval because he’s just so steady, consistent, and smart
  • Plays some man from off and doesn’t need to press to be effective
  • Broke up a would-be TD to Dyami Brown by making a tackle through the catch point
  • Blankets him on the next play they tried to go to the fade again and Sam Howell didn’t throw it
  • Had a FF vs. Pitt on an open-field tackle
  • Has that Jaire-like trait where every ball in his area he contests. He won’t break up all of them, but he’s always contesting them.

Cons

  • Dyami Brown beat him for a would-be TD, but Brown dropped it.
  • Came in small and didn’t test great

Summary

Samuel won’t be a difficult eval. He can play zone or man, boundary or slot, tackles from everywhere, makes plays on every ball in his area, and knows where to be consistently. He has the extra playmaking trait to get to passes outside his area, and shows instincts few other corners possess. He’s small. That’s it. He locked down Dyami Brown, matched up with bigger receivers, and came up no worse for the wear. Reminds me of Casey Hayward where he’s not ultra-athletic, but is so smooth and smart, he makes plays. If he were 6’0 instead of 5’10, there’d be no question he’s a first-round pick, but he plays like he’s 6’1 so it doesn’t matter.

The Packers have shown a willingness to come outside their preferred profile more recently with Gutekunst. Just take a look at the scouting report: one bad play and some OK testing numbers, but the tape is full of playmaking, intelligence, and consistency. He tackles like a big corner, runs like a fast corner, and contests balls like a tall corner. If he plays like all those things, why does it matter what he is on paper? He’s a damn good football player who can play boundary or in the slot, a trait new DC Joe Barry will love.

He may not fit the Packers type, but don’t be surprised if they pick him anyway and regardless of what the mock drafts say, taking him at 29 would not be a reach in the slightest.