South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel probably should have played inside last season. But low depth pushed him outside.
This year, he’ll move to the slot full time.
Samuel confirmed the move, which could open things up for a second-year player or freshman early enrollee OrTre Smith outside. Samuel saw a few snaps inside, but mostly a second tight end filled the role in 2016.
“I was in the slot last spring, but we got low on receivers,” Samuel said. “So I had to jump outside because everybody was getting injured.”
By the end of that spring, Jamari Smith was the only listed slot receiver and he hardly played there after three drops in the first half of the season opener.
His build might be a better fit inside, as he is 6-foot and boasts a lot of quickness in small spaces. He’d already been giving cornerbacks plenty of trouble, and the switch means even more enticing matchups.
“Playing on the inside, you have more of an advantage because they can’t really like press,” Samuel said. “You’re against a safety or a linebacker instead of a good corner.”
After missing most of 2015 and several games early in 2016 with nagging hamstring issues, Samuel broke out as one of the better young receivers in the conference. He caught 59 passes for 783 yards, capped by 14 for 190 in the bowl game. He also grew into a force on jet sweep runs, scoring six rushing touchdowns in becoming a consistent threat on the goal line.
Coaches and teammates often praised his strength once he got the ball in his hands, especially his lower body.
Fellow starting wide receiver Bryan Edwards said Samuel’s skill set fit the role he will shift into, though Samuel was willing and capable of flourishing at almost any spot. He was neither the biggest nor the fastest in terms of straight-line speed on the outside, but had a knack for out-leaping, out-muscling or outrunning whoever he was matched up with.
“You look at him, he don’t look that fast,” Edwards said. “But when a DB is backpedaling against him, he chases you down. You get out of that break, you’ve got to watch out for him.”