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2021 NFL Draft: Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr. is a top-20 player in the draft class

Florida State Seminoles defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. (26) after Clemson does not complete the pass as the Florida State Seminoles take on the Clemson Tigers in college football at Doak S. Campbell Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Fsu Vs Clemson1011a

Asante Samuel Jr. ranks 40th on The Athletic's 2021 NFL Draft Consensus Big Board, 11 spots beneath his place on PFF's final top 300.  But I'm of the belief that, despite his size, the Florida State product deserves to be higher on those draft boards because we have already run this experiment once before with his father, Asante Samuel Sr.

It would be lazy to just compare him to his dad because they share a name, but it’s incredible how similar they are as players when you throw on the tape. Because of that, I think we can project Junior’s NFL career with a higher degree of certainty than we might if we hadn’t seen this play out a decade ago.

View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

Samuel doesn’t fit the modern-day prototype for a No. 1 corner. The league has been chasing size and length at the position for years now, and the current prototype is a player like Jalen Ramsey — a 6-foot-1, 208-pound specimen who can run 4.4 flat in the 40 and go toe to toe with the most physically gifted receivers in the game all day.

Samuel fails to live up to that billing in virtually every way. He is substantially shorter (5-foot-10) and lighter (180 pounds), and he doesn’t offset that with blazing speed, as his 4.45-second 40-yard dash demonstrates.

If we were just looking at Samuel as a physical profile, he would be closer to a red flag than a prototype. But there's one exception, one aspect of his game that separates him from a draft class that isn't particularly short of promising cornerback prospects. This aspect, critical to his potential success at the next level, is his instant acceleration.

While Samuel's 4.45 40-yard dash time ranks in the 62nd percentile, his 10-yard split (1.50) ranks in the 91st. That instant acceleration shows up all over his tape and is vital if he is to become a top-tier NFL player, in much the same way that it was for his father.

When I took to the tape to build Samuel’s draft profile, his ability to instantly accelerate and break toward the football kept showing up in a variety of different ways.

I wrote the following about his T-step, which is the foot a corner plants in the turf to come out of their backpedal and drive on the football once the receiver makes his break:

If Caleb Farley has the fastest closing burst I can remember seeing, Samuel Jr. has the best and quickest T-step when he comes out of his backpedal to drive toward a receiver breaking in front of him. There is just zero wasted motion to it, and he can completely reverse his entire momentum and drive in that one step. It’s exactly how you are taught to do it, but I can’t remember seeing such a perfect execution of the skill before.

Time and time again on his tape, I saw just how he has been able to be such a playmaker and ballhawk despite not being blessed with the same physical tools some other corners have.

In each of his first two seasons at Florida State, Samuel recorded nine pass breakups before seeing that number slip to five this year (with three interceptions), but his overall coverage numbers improved in this most recent season. Samuel allowed a passer rating of just 46.2 when targeted and surrendered a total of 179 yards across eight games.

Asante Samuel Sr. was an exceptional NFL cornerback with a physical profile that is pretty much identical to his son's. PFF’s full NFL grading goes back to 2006, so we are missing the first few years of Samuel’s career, but he allowed a passer rating of just 56.4 and a completion rate of 56.5% for the portion of his career that we do have.

Asante Samuel Sr: Coverage Statistics from 2006-2013, rank among corners with 250 or more targets in coverage
Stat Rank
PFF coverage grade 93.5 2nd of 93
Passer rating allowed 56.4 2nd of 93
Yards allowed per coverage snap 1.04 8th of 93
Forced incompletion percentage 11.8% t-6th of 93

The first full season of his that we do have recorded was one of the finest statistical years we have seen at the position in 15 years of grading. In 2006, Samuel allowed a passer rating of 31.0 when targeted, almost 10 points lower than if the quarterback had just thrown the ball at the dirt every play instead of testing his coverage.

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