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Need For Speed: Samuel, McLaurin Bring Burner Element To Washington's Reworked Offense

mclaurin and samuels

Curtis Samuel can tell you a lot about what Terry McLaurin was like in college. Long before they were reunited in the NFL, the two lived in the same freshman dorm at Ohio State and played together for three years. There, they discussed dreams of turning pro and becoming teammates again on the larger stage. 

Samuel is even willing to share some information that McLaurin might not want out there -- or perhaps dispute if he had a chance to tell his side of the story.

"Terry isn't going to tell you, but I taught him how to dance," Samuel said Friday. "He came in with not as much swag dancing. I helped him out a little bit."'

If Samuel's signing goes as planned, McLaurin and Samuel will have plenty of chances to show off their dance moves in the end zone this fall.

When Washington gave Samuel a three-year, $34.5 million contract last week, they did so with the intention that the 24-year-old will provide another deep threat to pair with McLaurin. Since arriving in the NFL in 2017 and 2019 respectively, Samuel and McLaurin have each helped spread the field -- using their game-changing speed to run by opposing defenders. They each ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, with Samuel (4.31) clocking in slightly faster than McLaurin (4.35).

Washington's offense desperately needed another playmaker to pair with McLaurin, coming off a career-best 87 catches for 1,118 yards. In the process, head coach Ron Rivera and his front office turned to Samuel, who they knew quite well as Rivera coached the wideout for three years in Carolina. Set to enter his fifth season, Samuel also enjoyed a career year in 2020 -- catching 77 passes for 851 yards.

Samuel said he chose Washington because he wanted a team that could utilize his talent. In Carolina, Samuel lined up in the slot, on the outside and even the backfield. He can expect more of the same in reuniting with offensive coordinator Scott Turner.

"It scares a lot of defenses," Samuel said. "Terry being fast, me being fast, receivers -- a lot of defenses are going to play back, having a versatile running back. There are unlimited things we can do. Terry can carry the ball. I can. There are just so many different things that we can do in that offense."

Last season, Washington didn't have much success on shots down the field. The team completed only 27 passes that resulted in gains of 25 yards or more -- tied for 19th in the league. Of those completions, 11 went to McLaurin and just 16 were categorized as "deep" throws.

In Carolina, Samuel had 15 catches that went for at least 25 yards. Six of those came last season when Samuel spent most of his time in the slot. The Panthers changed schemes in 2020 upon hiring coach Matt Rhule and under new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Samuel played 60% of snaps in the slot -- whereas he played there just 31% of the time in 2019 under Turner and Turner's father, Norv.

Samuel said he doesn't have a preference for where he lines up on the field -- he'll do so anywhere, he said. But he added he is looking forward to stretching the field more under Turner. Even if Samuel doesn't haul in dozens of deep balls, his speed threat should still keep opposing defenses honest -- freeing up other targets like McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas.

Washington's offense should also benefit from adding a quarterback known for letting passes fly in journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

According to Next Gen Stats, Fitzpatrick was second in the league in aggressiveness percentage (21.7%) -- meaning he threw into a tight window where there's a defender within one yard or less of the receiver. He also ranked first in vertical route percentage (21.7%) and intermediate throw percentage (27.7%)

Former Washington starter Alex Smith, by contrast, ranked last in the latter two categories.

Washington, too, saw the damage Samuel can inflict firsthand last season. The 2017 second-rounder torched the team's defense for five catches and 106 yards. Showing off his versatility, he added another 56 yards on five rushing attempts.

Samuel said Friday that he didn't view that matchup as a possible audition for the coming offseason. The 24-year-old said he wasn't concerned about his free agency until the process began, when his agent soon communicated Washington's interest. 

Samuel's agent, though, wasn't the only person Samuel heard from about Washington.

McLaurin made a "little pitch" that Samuel said was convincing. 

"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."

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