Let's state the obvious: Curtis Samuel’s first season with the Burgundy & Gold did not go as planned.
There was plenty of hype surrounding Samuel, who was drafted by head coach Ron Rivera’s Carolina Panthers in 2017, when the Washington Commanders signed him during the 2021 offseason, and rightly so. He had improved his stats on a yearly basis to the point where he was one of the more exciting offensive weapons in the league. Amassing 2,565 all-purpose yards tends to do that to one's reputation.
Injuries, however, brought down the high hopes for Samuel, as he only appeared in five games and caught six passes for 27 yards (he also rushed the ball four times for 11 yards).
There's still plenty of time for Samuel to rebound, and former receiver Pierre Garcon believes a healthy version of the receiver will provide a boost to Washington's offense.
"It gives them more options," Garcon told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "I know the pressure it takes off [players] when you have another great receiver."
There is no dispute that Terry McLaurin is the Commanders' top receiver, but Rivera knows Samuel can add another dimension to whatever offense he's in because the head coach has seen it. He averaged nearly 11 yards per touch in Rivera's final three seasons with the team, and that was highlighted by 12.3 yards per touch in 2018.
Samuel received an expanded role in 2020 with 118 touches (77 receptions and 41 rushing attempts) and was one of just two Panthers players to see that volume. He averaged 8.9 yards per touch and had the third-most scrimmage yards.
"He's a guy that we had drafted, I had drafted when I was there, got a chance to watch him grow and develop and saw how explosive he was for us and we know what his abilities are," Rivera said. "Hopefully we can get him back here and healthy and ready to roll for us next season and it'll help open things up. It'll take a lot of pressure off a lot of people as well."
On Friday, Feb. 4, the Washington Commanders hosted a "Park and Party" event for fans at FedExField to cap off their rebrand reveal week. The tailgate experience, sponsored by Bud Light, featured exclusive team content, new team gear, alumni meet & greets, a fireworks show and more. (Photos by Jess Rapfogel and Jospeh Noyes/Washington Commanders)
Garcon can attest to that sentiment. Prior to joining Washington in 2012, he was the No. 2 wideout behind Reggie Wayne in the Indianapolis Colts' offense. He had success in that role as well, catching 188 passes for 2,519 yards and 16 touchdowns.
In Washington, he was the No. 1 target and had some of his best statistical seasons. He led the league with 113 receptions in 2013 and hauled in more than 1,300 yards and capped off his five-year stint in Washington with another 1,000-yard season.
So, Garcon knows the benefits that can come when an offense doesn't have to rely on one player to make all the plays.
"It kind of hypes you up when your other receiver is making a good play," Garcon said. "It's like, 'Alright, I'm next.'"
It was unfortunate, Rivera said during the season, that Washington couldn't quite get Samuel going. The offense had to go with other options to complement McLaurin, including DeAndre Carter, Adam Humphries and third-round pick Dyami Brown with varying degrees of success.
Having Samuel back in the fold would be an ideal, but the first step is for him to get healthy. The time away should provide that opportunity before the players head back to the team facility for OTAs.
For Samuel, it would mean being able to become the duo he and McLaurin envisioned during their days at Ohio State.
"We always talked about being teammates in the NFL, but that's just farfetched," Samuel said. "You never know what's going to happen. The opportunity presented itself. My boy Terry being in Washington, I was excited. I was like: 'Hold on. Wait. I have the opportunity to play with him?' One thousand yards, a phenomenal player, a great athlete.
"Just being able to link back up and play with each other -- it's amazing."