When you think about Lamar Jackson’s Heisman season in 2016, you probably think about the athleticism and the absurd highlights. When you think of him throwing the ball, you think of guys like Cole Hikutini, Jamari Staples, and James Quick as his main targets. Those guys are gone. So looking ahead to this season, people around the country say that Lamar lost his weapons and that there is unproven talent on the roster.
But if you follow the team closely, you know that the weapons are still there. The first names you mention might be Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins, Micky Crum, or redshirt freshman Dez Fitzpatrick. While those players might all be phenomenal in 2017, we tend to overlook one proven guy who I think will be a very important player for the Cards this season: Traveon Samuel.
At 5’7, Samuel is the shortest player on the entire team. Look at the other guys I named. Jaylen Smith is 6’4, as is Crum. Seth Dawkins is 6’3 and Dez is 6’2. We like our big wide receivers. Bobby Petrino had plenty of success with 6’6 Mario Urrutia in his first stint at Louisville. Samuel stands at 5’7, but don’t let that fool you. You don’t need to be tall to catch the ball. You don’t need to be tall to lower your shoulder and inflict a hit on somebody as they try to tackle you. You simply don’t need to be tall to make big plays on the football field.
Posts before the season starts can make someone look really smart or incredibly dumb. If I land somewhere in the middle, that’s cool with me. You have to take risks and make predictions. I feel like Traveon Samuel will be Louisville’s most reliable receiver this season.
Does that mean he will have the most yards or catches or touchdowns? Not necessarily. But I can definitely see him as the guy that moves the chains for the Cards on 3rd down. Of course, Lamar running for the first down is also a possibility. But when the defense tries to take that away, and also has Jaylen Smith double-teamed, there will be 5’7 Traveon Samuel running over the middle catching a pass that will keep the drive alive. He will be the Wes Welker to Tom Brady. The Eli Rogers to Teddy Bridgewater. Little guy in the slot that just makes plays.
With Quick, Hikutini, and Staples gone, Jaylen Smith is the leading returning wide receiver with 27 catches for 599 yards last season. Who is after him? Samuel, who had 18 catches for 230 yards. His best game of the season came at Virginia when he reeled in five catches for 69 yards, third best in both categories behind Staples and Hikutini. Everyone remembers the game winning touchdown pass from Lamar to Jaylen Smith. Samuel was right there in the thick of things as well.
Samuel was a 3-star prospect on 247 Sports coming out of high school in Phenix City, Alabama. Also according to 247, he had offers from Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky, and more. So it’s not like there weren’t high expectations for him when he came here. It’s just easy to get lost in the shuffle with the names I have mentioned, and that guy named Lamar. But Samuel let us know pretty quickly that he was here to make an impact. In just his third collegiate game, Samuel returned a kickoff for 100 yards against Clemson, getting Louisville back into the game in the 4th quarter.
Samuel will make a lot of plays from the slot position, but in no way do I think that will be the only way that Petrino gets him the ball. I expect him to be involved in some reverses, screen passes, and maybe even line up in the backfield every now and then. However Petrino and Lonnie Galloway can get him the ball in open space, count me in for wanting to see that. I am picturing George Stripling catching a swing pass and taking it to the house against Miami in 2006. I digress…
Lamar Jackson will have plenty of talent around him this year. We know that. The rest of the country doesn’t...yet. They will soon know the names of Jaylen, Seth, Dez, and Micky. Just remember the 5’7 guy in the group. This is the only reminder you will need. He will make sure that you don’t look past him this season when he makes a play, and it’s followed by “And that’s good, for another...CARDS FIRST DOWN!”
Go Cards...Beat Purdue!