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Jaylen Samuels: The Swiss Army Knife of the ACC

We have Jaylen Samuels, and no team ever has before.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody has ever been able to classify Jaylen Samuels. Jaylen has been listed at various times throughout his NC State career as a tight end, fullback, halfback, and “let’s just leave it blank and hope nobody notices” (see here). A few weeks ago, when the All-ACC preseason teams came out, a new position was listed: all-purpose. This was a thinly veiled way to ensure that Jaylen, one of the league’s best players, made the team. As an avid Jaylen fan ever since learning he scored 55 touchdowns on just 158 touches during his senior year of high school at Mallard Creek (1 TD every 2.8 touches), I wanted to determine: Is Jaylen Samuels the most unique “all-purpose” player in modern ACC history*?

After a long internal debate, I ultimately decided that dual-threat quarterbacks were not going to be included in this analysis. This decision was made because quarterbacks already have an All-ACC slot that can be won by a dual-threat QB. Lamar Jackson did so just last year. Thus, I moved forward by filtering the data to contain only players who had at least 10 carries and 10 receptions in a given year. Players could appear more than once if they met the criteria in multiple different seasons.

I selected 6 categories with which to analyze the 341 players that met the criteria: rushing yards per game, rushing yards per attempt, rushing touchdowns, receiving yards per game, receiving yards per attempt, and receiving touchdowns. Using these 6 categories, my goal was to calculate how much of a difference there was between any given player and the player that most resembled them (this is a fairly common statistical method called nearest neighbor search).

Basically, who is the most similar player and just how similar are they. I didn’t allow players to match with themselves from a different year. I made sure to weight the 6 categories equally, so a big difference in rushing yards per game was equivalent to a comparable difference in rushing touchdowns. If you would like to know any more about the setup feel free to contact me or leave a comment, but for now let’s get to the results!

Jaylen finished the analysis ranked as the 3rd most unique player in modern ACC history (top 1%). The only 2 players ahead of him were Clinton Lynch of Georgia Tech and Dalvin Cook of Florida State, both last year. Lynch averaged a ridiculous 11 yards per carry and 31 yards per catch, albeit on far fewer touches than Jaylen. Here is Lynch torching UNC for an 85-yard touchdown:

Cook was simply so productive last year that nobody has ever had a similar season. Anyway, the reason Jaylen is so unique is mostly because Jaylen is (and always has been), a touchdown machine.

If the video isn’t enough, here’s some graphical evidence:

Note: The points on the graph are all jittered slightly around their true values so that the number of unique points is more apparent. The data used for the plot is individual season data, so players can show up more than once. The 2 red points below JaySam’s name are his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Nobody else scores touchdowns through the air and on the ground quite like he does. All of this is to say that we have an incredibly unique talent in Jaylen, and it’s going to be a joy to watch him tear up the ACC this year. The inevitable Clinton Lynch-Jaylen Samuels matchup in the ACC championship game that everyone is predicting (I assume) is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

*Modern ACC history in this case refers to 2004-present. This period was chosen because it had easily obtainable data and the teams in the conference are mostly similar to those in the conference today.