FSU’s Asante Samuel: ‘I’m a dominant corner on the outside’

Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. of the Florida State Seminoles is tackled after making an interception by offensive lineman Jack Defoor of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Doak Campbell Stadium on Bobby Bowden Field on September 12, 2020 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Character Lines)
Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. of the Florida State Seminoles is tackled after making an interception by offensive lineman Jack Defoor of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Doak Campbell Stadium on Bobby Bowden Field on September 12, 2020 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Character Lines)

Credit: Don Juan Moore

Credit: Don Juan Moore

It’s easy to fall into the trap that cornerbacks must be a certain height. NFL teams, in recent years, have zeroed in on taller corners with long arms who, in theory, can be more physical at the line of scrimmage against bigger receivers.

However, regardless of size, the video often will tell whether a cornerback can play at the next level. That’s the case with Asante Samuel, the 5-foot-10 cornerback from Florida State who routinely found himself around the football during his three seasons in college. But since Samuel isn’t as tall as his counterparts, he hasn’t been included among the top two or three at his position in this year’s NFL draft class. But the closer the league gets to the draft, Samuel has received increased attention.

And in the end, it’s quite possible that Samuel sneaks himself into the first round of the draft.

“I feel that I’m a dominant corner on the outside,” Samuel said. “They try to look at my height and things of that nature, but I’m the same size as Jaire Alexander, and he’s a dominant NFL cornerback right now, one of the best in the league. I feel like size doesn’t matter; it’s about the heart and the dog mentality you have on that field.”

Samuel is right about Alexander, who at 5-foot-10 was named to his first Pro Bowl in his third season with the Green Bay Packers. Height isn’t always an indicator when it comes to success at cornerback. Just look at the pedigree Samuel himself comes from.

Samuel’s father, Asante Samuel Sr., enjoyed an 11-year NFL career at the same height of 5-foot-10. Samuel’s father won two Super Bowls, was named a first-team All-Pro player twice and tied for the league lead in interceptions two times. After five years with the New England Patriots and four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, Samuel concluded his career with the Falcons in 2012 and 2013.

NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who was a college scout for the Eagles when the elder Samuel was with the team, sees a lot of similarities in how his son plays the game.

“I was around his dad when I was working with the Eagles, and you see the movement stuff is eerily similar,” Jeremiah said. “Just out of their pedal they look exactly the same. Just really good eyes to just plant, drive, anticipate throws. He’s really, really comfortable and good in zone coverage. Some of the deep speed and just the overall explosiveness is a little bit of the question there. No question about his toughness whatsoever.”

Samuel said his father provided a positive influence in his development as a cornerback, while providing the space to carve out his own path.

“He played a big role in my life, and he just wanted me to do my own thing with how I learned,” Samuel said. “Just be self-oriented with the things I wanted to do.”

Jeremiah likened Samuel’s situation to Antoine Winfield Jr., whose size was criticized during the pre-draft process a year ago. Winfield, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 5-foot-9 free safety who was taken in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, became a key starter as a rookie en route to a Super Bowl-winning season.

In essence, a team could potentially get a bargain if Samuel is still available on Day 2.

“I think this is the same type of situation with Asante Samuel where you can try and nitpick him and ding him,” Jeremiah said. “He’s not the biggest, probably not going to be the fastest. He’s just a really, really good football player.”

Jeremiah ranks Samuel as his 39th overall player but has him drafted 28th overall by the New Orleans Saints. If Samuel falls out of the first round, the Falcons could seemingly have him on the radar as an early second-round option. The Falcons could use help in the secondary, especially for the future. As it stands, cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Isaiah Oliver are set to be free agents in 2022. Kendall Sheffield has two years remaining on his rookie deal.

Samuel’s junior season was full of highlight plays, beginning with the opener against Georgia Tech. Two of Samuel’s three interceptions came in that game, both in zone coverage. His third came against Virginia where he was able to correctly read where the ball was going after pressure forced the quarterback to roll away to his left.

In addition to zone, Florida State played Samuel in man coverage a good bit. This is an area he believes he will excel at in the NFL.

“Man coverage is a dog mentality,” Samuel said. “It’s you versus me, and you’re not going to win your rep against me because I’m a dog, and I’ve been working hard all year for it. You’re not going to outwork me for the week, so I feel like that leads into the game. FSU really brought out the man coverage in me because we played it a lot. Especially last year, I felt that the scheme was really good, and I was able to showcase my talent.”

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