2021 NFL draft prospects: Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr.

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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr.

5-foot-10, 180 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.89 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Undersized playmaker on the outside who takes after his father but tackles and plays more physically than expected

Games watched: Florida (2020), Florida State (2020), North Carolina (2020), Pitt (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 46 nationally), Samuel signed with FSU — symbolically on the anniversary of his grandmother’s death — and saw the field right away as a true freshman. In 2018, he started three of 12 games, making 17 tackles (one for loss) and nine pass breakups. The next season Samuel made 48 tackles (one for loss), one interception and an ACC-best 14 passes defended (eighth nationally). As a junior, he started the first eight games in 2020, making 31 tackles (one for loss), three interceptions and six pass breakups prior to opting out for the remainder of the season and declaring for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Very good athlete. Nicely sculpted physique for a smaller frame. Extremely quick and agile feet. Stops on a dime and closes fast and hard. Enough speed to carry receivers vertically. Good balance transitioning from his backpedal. Possesses lower-body strength and explosion.

Great pass-coverage instincts. Breaks on the ball faster and drives on out-breaking routes than most corners in this class. Trusts his instincts and showed more of an attacking mentality later in his college career. Crowds and annoys receivers with his sticky coverage. Likes to get in guys’ faces — hornet-like presence.

Feisty, scrappy corner — not a finesse player by any means. Plays big for his size. Doesn’t back down from physical challenges. Heck of a tackler for his size — might go low but comes in hard. Highly competitive and confident play.

Times up passes well. Great ball production — four INTs, 29 passes defended on 137 career targets, per PFF. Allowed 51.3 percent career completions, and that includes a true-freshman season in which he was frequently picked on. Limited big plays in 2020 — long reception allowed of only 38 yards. Showed some return potential — ran back his three 2020 picks back for 74 yards, including 38- and 36-yard returns.

Scheme-diverse. Has operated in man and zone coverage and has improved press technique. Very comfortable and natural playing outside. Has played enough inside to be thrown into nickel duties as well. Handles quickness well inside or outside. Has NFL bloodlines.

Downside: Very small frame and not getting any bigger anytime soon. Can get worked by bigger, stronger receivers — especially in man coverage. Less-than-ideal length to make plays at the catch point — 30 1/8-inch arms and 72 1/4-inch wingspan, both bottom 10th percentile. Small hands, too (8 7/8 inches).

More of an ankle/drag-down tackler than a hitter. Even some quarterbacks broke out of his tackle attempts (see North Carolina). Can’t detach readily from receivers’ blocks to make a play.

Flagged five times in eight 2020 games — grabby downfield. Tries to get away with downfield contact and sometimes does but will need to be more subtle about it. Multiple pass-interference calls against him the past two seasons.

Might be best in a zone system. Lacks great length for press coverage and gives too big a cushion in off-man, even with his excellent click-and-close ability. Will overplay receivers off the line to cross his face and allow quick, easy completions on slants and drags. Needs to work on bail/side-saddle technique. Looks less sure of himself with his back to the ball — guilty of too much face guarding.

Not much experience as a blitzer. Has said he prefers to play outside.

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 10: Asante Samuel Jr. #26 of the Florida State Seminoles breaks up a pass against Chase Claypool #83 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on November 10, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr. will get physical with receivers despite his size. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Best-suited destination: We see Samuel thriving best in a heavy zone and off-man system, possibly as a nickel. He should be given a chance to perform outside before making that call. Samuel might be on the small side and lose some physical battles, but he has the temperament to make it work in the long run. Any team seeking more playmaking in its secondary should make a run at him.

Did you know: As you might have guessed from the name, Samuel is the son of the four-time Pro Bowl and two-time Super Bowl champion cornerback with the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons.

Samuel Jr. spoke to Yahoo Sports earlier this year about his father and what he's working on to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft.

“I’m just trying to make my own way,” Samuel said. “It’s not about not wanting to be him, or whatever. Just me trying to showcase my ability to cover and make plays.

“Some of it is genetics, but I mean, I have always assumed nothing is just going to be given to me because of my name. I want to work for everything I have a shot at. That’s where the hard work pays off. If you don’t put in the time, eventually you’ll fail. I don’t want that to happen.”

Player comp: A smaller Jaire Alexander.

Expected draft range: Top 50