Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. can be an early round NFL Draft pick

Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. has all the tools required to be an early round selection even in a competitive 2021 NFL Draft class.

He may carry a famous surname, but Florida State University cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is set to make a name for himself in 2020. Amongst a ferociously competitive 2021 cornerback class, Samuel Jr. isn’t in the CB1 conversation right now, but he has all the necessary tools to become an early-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

When you look at a list of the 2021 cornerback class, one name appears more familiar than the others. Asante Samuel had a prolific career in the NFL after being selected by the New England Patriots in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Over an 11-year career, he recorded 51 interceptions on his way to two Super Bowls, four Pro-Bowls, and one All-Pro selection.

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Following the family business

Following in your father’s footsteps is never easy for any young man, and Samuel Jr. has been left some hefty football cleats to fill. They may share the same name, and at 5’10 180lbs, there’s more than a passing physical resemblance, but Samuel Jr. has already begun to make a name for himself at Florida State.

Samuel Jr. was a standout cornerback at the successful St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida. An Under Armour High School All-American, he was twice a state champion with St. Thomas and led the team to the state semi-finals as a senior.

Highly regarded and ranked as a four-star recruit, Samuel Jr. entertained offers from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson. He opted to stay at home and committed to Florida State. Samuel Jr. signed his letter of intent after National Signing Day to honor his grandmother, saying at the time:

“It’s really for my mom. I wanted her to feel special on a day that was a tragedy years ago.”

Samuel Jr. made an immediate impact at Florida State during his freshman season. He played in 11 games but only started towards the end of the season. He led all FSU players in pass breakups and began to show the tackling ability that is often lacking in defensive backs of his size.

In 2019, despite a down season for the ‘Noles under head coach Willie Taggart, Samuel Jr. shone in the cornerback spotlight. He was nominated to the third-team All-ACC team after leading the ACC in pass breakups. His abilities as a ball hawk and tough tackling cornerback were highlighted as he became the only Power 5 defensive player to log 14 pass breakups and 45+ tackles.

Samuel Jr. has a real opportunity to put his name into the mix as one of the nation’s top cornerbacks during the 2020 season. There has been an overhaul of the coaching staff at FSU, and with the departure of Stanford Samuels III to the NFL, Samuel Jr. will be the CB1 for a Seminoles team that is expected to be much more competitive in the ACC.

How does Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. compare?

The 2021 NFL Draft cornerback class is extremely competitive. How does Samuel Jr. compare to the rest of the class? Where can we reasonably expect him to be drafted as we head into the 2020 College Football season?

As Neal Driscoll wrote this week, the battle for CB1 will be waged between Shaun Wade and Patrick Surtain Jr., and it will be a tightly contested battle. Surtain Jr. was the top-ranked cornerback in the same 2018 recruiting class as Samuel Jr. Both Surtain Jr. and Wade have showcased their ability to make plays, and their ability to catch is born out by their interception statistics.

The same can be said for other top cornerback prospects, such as Caleb Farley and Paulson Adebo.

Although interception numbers shouldn’t be taken at face value as a sole indicator of cornerback play, when you look at the tape, you can see what separates the players at the top of the class from Samuel Jr. He frequently gets himself in great positions but doesn’t have the catching ability of Wade or Surtain Jr. to complete the interception.

At 5’10, he lacks the prototypical size and length that NFL teams covet. Wade and Adebo measure in at 6’1 with Surtain Jr. and Farley at 6’2.

What he lacks in size and catching ability, Samuel Jr. makes up with sheer tenacity. He has the instincts to know where the ball is going and the speed to get there to make the play. For a man of his size, his tackling ability is extremely impressive, especially when you consider how he has managed to stop Boston College’s juggernaut running back A.J. Dillon, despite Dillon being a considerably bigger man than himself.

Samuel Jr. shows good awareness while making the tackle to bring down his man short of the first down marker, and he isn’t shy about throwing a man to the ground.

In addition to his ability as a cornerback, Samuel Jr. also brings the special teams ability that NFL teams value greatly. He starred on special teams at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, blocking two punts and two PATS. In 2019, he downed punts for FSU inside the five-yard line in games against UL Monroe, Louisville, and Arizona State.

There’s (hopefully) a full season of college football to play before the 2021 NFL Draft gets underway in Cleveland, and it’s far too early to make predictions on where players make get drafted. However, it would be a surprise to me if Samuel Jr. is still available for teams looking to pick up a cornerback in round three.

In the 2003 NFL Draft, his father was a fourth-round selection out of UCF. If Samuel Jr. is drafted earlier than that, and he should be, then that would be one footstep along the way of making a name for himself in the football world.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter @ojhodgkinson.