The Washington Football Team has needed a boost at wide receiver for the last two years, and it did not take long for it to check that off the list in free agency.
Just one day after the new league year began, Washington locked down former Carolina Panthers wideout Curtis Samuel, pairing him with his former Ohio State teammate Terry McLaurin and reuniting him with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner. One week later, it dipped into the receiver pool once again and came back with six-year pro Adam Humphries, who played with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The trio of McLaurin, Samuel and Humphries will be a stark contrast from what the team has been used to in years past. It is certainly a more proven group than last year, when McLaurin was the only drafted receiver to receive playing time, and with Samuel being Washington's No. 2 option and Humphries holding down the slot position, it makes for a more versatile, experienced bunch that the team believes will lead it to more success.
"Being able to add another piece in the offensive system will be awesome," Humphries told reporters. "They've already got a good group of guys there. I'm just hoping bringing in the two of us will add some more guys to help."
Humphries, an undrafted free agent in 2015, has had a successful career because he knows better than most how to thrive in the slot. Injuries limited his impact with the Tennessee Titans, but he was one of the most reliable options for Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston with the Buccaneers. In 2018 -- the best season of his career -- he was tied for second on the team in catches resulting first downs (48).
It's a good time to be a slot receiver, Humphries said, because offenses appreciate what they can do. He believes slot receivers need to have a "point guard basketball-feel" because of all the options they have in the middle of the field. Given he had the eighth-most receptions (214) in NFL history for an undrafted player in his first four seasons, it's clear Humphries knows what he's doing.
"It's a certain skill that you have to have just to make those decisions quickly," Humphries said. "It's something that can be very useful as a checkdown or as an outlet for the quarterback. I've been able to find that niche in the slot. I'm continuing to build and grow each and every year and try to master that."
There are many, including Humphries himself, who label him as "a slot guy," but he does not want people to believe that is all he can do. He thinks he can do it all, so it should reassure him to know that Turner's system allows for players to be moved around to fit their strengths. As Rivera put it in his free agency press conference, "We're not always going to be static in terms of where we line up. We're going to be...multidimensional in the way we use players."
"That will be something that I continue to learn as I work with Scott and wide receivers coach] **[Drew [Terrell]and senior offensive assistant **[Jim] Hostler and those offensive guys where they see me fitting in this offense," Humphries said when asked about his best attributes. "Obviously, there's a lot to find out as I work with this offensive staff. It'll be exciting to see where they think I can be the most successful."
Humphries admits he has some limitations, but he thinks Samuel can do things that he cannot with the ball in his hands. The former second-round pick might be Washington's prime example of versatility, as he has increased his production as a wideout and runner in each of his four seasons. His stats during the 2020 season -- 851 receiving yards and 200 rushing yards -- were the best of his career.
"I feel like that's good for an offensive coordinator just being able to scheme up defenses, do different things, put defenses in positions that they don't want to be in, show them different looks, being able to go in the backfield, being able to go out in the slot," Samuel said. "I feel like that adds a lot of versatility to the offense and just makes it harder for the defense."
Rivera thinks Samuel's ability making downfield receptions -- no one was more efficient than Samuel at catching deep throw targets last year, according to Pro Football Focus -- is going to complement McLaurin's skills, but he has proven to be more than an outside threat. Most of his production last season came from the slot, where he made 55 receptions for 677 yards and three touchdowns, according to Rotowire. He also had eight receptions and 46 rushing attempts out of the backfield, and 342 of his receiving yards came after the catch.
To put it plainly, it does not matter to Samuel where Turner uses him; he's going to feel comfortable regardless of position, and there is a good chance he is going to make positive plays.
"Running back is natural to me. I've played that my whole life," Samuel said. "If you put me in the backfield, you don't have to tell me the reads or anything. Just tell me what direction I'm going. You know my talents. My history of playing running back just kind of takes over. I just want to go forward and to become a better receiver, working each and every day at things I'm not great at and try to become great at it."
Like Humphries, Rivera sees Samuel as a savvy veteran who is still making a name for himself. While Humphries is looking to get back to the success he had in 2017 and 2018, Samuel is steadily proving he can be one of the league's most dynamic playmakers.
Samuel feels like he is a better player than when he last played for Rivera in 2019. Hopefully, this new version of Samuel paired with Humphries will take Washington's offense to new heights.
"I think things are going to be the same, but a little bit different. I feel like I'm going to have much more opportunities in this offense. I'm excited for it."