On the first official day of 2021 NFL free agency, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel heads a little north to join the Washington Football Team. He is reunited with his former head coach Ron Rivera, 2019 offensive coordinator Scott Turner, and long-time general manager Marty Hurney.
Former Panthers backup and presumed No. 2 quarterback Taylor Heinicke also is in Washington, in the event newcomer Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t so magical in his age-39 season.
Washington will find creative ways to utilize Samuel’s speed and feature him prominently alongside wide receiver Terry McLaurin. Tight end Logan Thomas broke through in 2020, giving the offense more outlets for the opponent to worry about defending. The backfield features a quality tandem in pass-catcher J.D. McKissic and promising ’20 rookie Antonio Gibson to balance the offense.
Washington’s philosophy is built on successfully running the ball to enable play-action passing and fielding a consistently sound defense. The offensive line graded out as the sixth-best unit overall last year by ProFootballFocus, and the core returns intact.
Fantasy football outlook
The offense overtly needed another weapon and explosiveness. Samuel will be a large part of the offense and is in a good spot regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out during the season.
There is only mild upside in Samuel, though. He has been put in better situations than this while with the Panthers and failed to capitalize in an earth-shaking way for fantasy purposes. Not all of it was his fault, but reasonable expectations must be in focus. Minor injuries have been an issue, too.
He is fresh off a career high for receptions (77) and yardage (851), but Samuel caught just three touchdowns and added a pair on the ground. He scored seven total touchdown in each of the previous two seasons — solid but far from special production — while in the Turner-inspired offense. Quarterback issues in recent years didn’t help, but it’s not like anything Washington can offer will be ultimately that much of an upgrade.
Fantasy footballers should consider Samuel a WR3 in the upcoming draft season if erring on the side of caution is your thing. His best season came outside of Turner’s offense. He has the tools to post No. 2 figures with regularity, illustrated by his WR23 overall finish a year ago in PPR. However, that should be the optimistic view of his potential worth. Drafting him as a second receiver isn’t advised in standard formats and comes with arguably more risk than reward potential in reception-rewarding leagues.