Even with the emergence of rookie star Justin Jefferson and the consistent impact of Adam Thielen, the Minnesota Vikings lack a “gadget” type player who could line up anywhere. If they were to acquire free agent Curtis Samuel, it could elevate their offense and create mismatches for Jefferson and Thielen.
Samuel is one of the most versatile players in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft out of Ohio State. He played both running back and receiver in Columbus, totaling 2,535 yards from scrimmage with 24 total touchdowns in his three-year tenure with the Buckeyes.
Carolina figured out how to utilize his unique skill-set in the final year of his contract when they decided to expand Samuel’s role in their offense due to injuries to Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis. Despite having snaps as a running back in the past, he never played as a true RB. But he had 200 rushing yards on 21 attempts with two rushing touchdowns as a halfback and 851 receiving yards on 77 receptions with three touchdowns as a receiver last year.
He’s a perfect match for the Vikings’ offense and could be the missing piece that could make them competitive again in the NFC North. Minnesota hasn’t ever had an everyday player line up anywhere in their offense and be productive as both a receiver and running back.
If the Vikings signed Samuel this offseason, he could potentially add another dimension to how they use their wideouts. Much like they did with Chad Beebe this season, they could line Samuel in the backfield in the shotgun and then split him out wide, creating a mismatch with a linebacker on a receiver.
Their identity as a run-based team could be due to the lack of depth at wide receiver, and Samuel could be an excellent addition to an already talented WR core. His receiving yards alone eclipsed Beebe’s 207 yards and two touchdowns, and he was the WR3 behind Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore — two 1000-yard receivers.
Most importantly, Samuel has proven that he can create mismatches on offense, which would be essential to opening up the passing game, which Beebe is incapable of.
When Samuel was on the field for the Panthers, he opened opportunities for their receivers and running backs by taking attention away from them. Anderson and Moore both had career years, which can be partially attributed to the mismatches that Samuel was able to create. If the Vikings added Samuel to their offense, it would mean more production for everyone around him. And he’s a reliable third-down target: He had 39 first downs last year, and the Vikings’ third-down efficiency was 16th in the league at 40.88%.
It seems like all the great teams this year had a player with the capacity to line up anywhere on the field. The Kansas City Chiefs have two, for example, Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Adding one of these “new generation” players to the Vikings’ offense could be the key to take their otherwise vanilla offense to the next level. Though Beebe is a consistent receiver, Samuel possesses a tremendous playmaking ability and can create consistent yards after the catch.
Samuel served to be a solid change-of-pace back for the Panthers and even could be used as a No. 1 back. Imagine him lining up next to Dalvin Cook in the backfield. He’s unlikely to be used as the RB2, but he could be used in specially designed packages with limited snaps designed to get him the ball in space from anywhere on the field.
He is the type of player that the Vikings need to bring their offense to the next level.