When your dad is a two-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler, expectations can be high once you hit the gridiron yourself.
The football legacy of FSU cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is off to a strong start, though. He’s determined to create his own lane. Opposing wide receivers across the country have found out the hard way that Samuel is one of the top players in the 2021 NFL Draft.
A complete prospect who excels as a cover corner, Samuel recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his football bloodlines, how playing for the Seminoles prepared him for NFL success, and what kind of impact he’ll have at the next level.
JM: A lot of people feel like you’re one of the best cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Why should they continue to feel that way?
AS: They should feel that way about me because I can do anything and everything when it comes to playing defensive back. I can play both inside and outside. I’ve even taken some snaps at safety. I can play the nickel spot. Whatever my coaches asked of me, I did it at a high level.
JM: It’s all on tape. How have you been preparing for this process?
AS: I’ve just been trying to maximize everything in my arsenal. I’m taking things day by day. I’m looking at my weaknesses and focusing on how I can improve those areas of my game. We’re heavily focused on my upcoming Pro Day (March 22). I’m excited to show all 32 NFL teams what I’m capable of.
JM: Speaking of the Pro Day, is there a drill or two in particular that you expect to drop our jaws in?
AS: I think that’s how people are going to feel about me when it comes to every on-field drill. I’m going to impress people with how quick my feet are. I have the best hips and feet in this draft.
JM: I love your confidence. Which traits of yours do you feel improved the most from 2019 to 2020?
AS: I made a lot more plays on the ball in 2020. I made plays on the ball during my sophomore year as well, but I didn’t do a good enough job finishing them. I finished those plays in 2020. That was the difference. I took full advantage of the plays that came my way this past season. I didn’t always do that in 2019.
JM: I want to get into that. Your lack of ball production was one of the question marks surrounding your game heading into the 2020 season but you did a great job of putting that to bed by recording three interceptions in just eight games. I imagine that was a big focus for you.
AS: Of course that was a huge focus for me. I was trying to make as many plays on the ball as possible. I wanted to do that for my team. I was trying to make game-winning plays.
JM: And that’s what you did. You played a lot of man coverage at FSU. You mentioned your quick feet earlier. I feel like your traits allow you to thrive in man coverage. What do you enjoy about playing man?
AS: I love taking my man out of the play. If I can eliminate the receiver I’m covering by playing tight man coverage, that’s what I’m aiming to do. I want to take him out of the play altogether. I’m trying to help my team have a successful rep. If I do my job, we have a better chance of achieving that. I’m just trying to handle my business really.
JM: You’ve been labeled as undersized, but your tape proves that you love to tackle. You love to get involved in the run game and make big tackles. Cornerbacks sometimes get a reputation for avoiding contact but I don’t see that with you. What do you enjoy about that?
AS: It goes back to me making plays for my team. Whenever I have the opportunity to make a play, that’s what I’m trying to do. Whether that means making a play on the ball, or a big tackle for loss, it doesn’t matter to me. They’re all positive plays. I love blitzing off the edge as well. I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I just want to help my team win football games.
JM: I’m sure you’ve heard the term “undersized” before. How do you typically respond to that?
AS: I honestly feel disrespected when I hear people associate me with that term. I’m the same size as some of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now. Tre’Davious White, Jaire Alexander, Xavien Howard—these are the names of elite cornerbacks that I’m the same size as. I don’t know why my size would be a factor. Those guys are the best cornerbacks in the league.
JM: I remember having a similar conversation with Jaire Alexander before he went to the league. We know how that turned out.
AS: Yes sir. I feel like if you’re a baller, you’re a baller. That’s how it should be at the end of the day. Size shouldn’t matter. I can do way more than these taller cornerbacks can. I can play both inside and outside. I’m not buying into any of that.
JM: I love that. FSU didn’t play a lot of zone coverage from the tape that I watched. I didn’t see you line up in zone very often. How comfortable are you with zone coverage, and how can you still improve in this area?
AS: I feel like I can excel in both man and zone coverage. We played a little zone during my junior year at Florida State. It’s true that we played more man coverage overall. I’ve put some good things on tape in zone coverage too. We probably spent half of our time in zone during my junior year. I can play in any scheme and excel in every system. That’s how I really feel.
JM: You’ve played both inside and outside. You’ve touched on that already. I know that you’re comfortable playing at both spots, but is there one that fits you best at the next level?
AS: I feel like playing on the outside is my best natural fit. Playing outside allows me to make more plays on the ball. That’s where my skill-set can really thrive.
JM: How are some of the best receivers you ever had to cover?
AS: The best receiver I’ve ever had to cover was my own teammate, Tamorrion Terry at Florida State. He’s very legit. He has 4.40 speed at his size. He’s big, strong, and fast. He makes some incredible plays on the ball. He’s going to be a very good receiver. He just didn’t get a chance to show off his full skill set at FSU.
JM: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your father and his NFL career?
AS: It just taught me to never take anything for granted. That’s why I’m taking things day by day right now. I’m soaking everything in. This moment isn’t lost on me. It’s a special time in my life right now. This is what I’ve been working toward my entire life. I’m blessed to be in this position. I’m going to take full advantage of it.
JM: Do you have a favorite childhood memory of growing up around the game?
AS: I don’t have one memory in particular that sticks out to me. I just enjoyed watching him go through his process. We always talk about taking things day by day. I know he soaked it all in and I’m trying to do the same thing now that it’s my time to embark on my journey.
JM: Did you ever consider following in his footsteps and playing college football at UCF?
AS: I never really considered that, no. That’s the honest truth. I’ve always wanted to make my own path. I wanted to make a name for myself and be different. I have to create my own lane. I can’t be my father. I wanted to prove that I could have done this at any school. I didn’t have to go to the same school that he did. It always depended on me. I couldn’t lean on my name or anything like that.
JM: There’s no doubt that you’ve done exactly what you set out to do. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Asante. In closing, why should an NFL team use a first-round pick on Asante Samuel Jr.?
AS: I’m a dog on the field. I’m the best cornerback in this draft class. I can play both inside and outside. I can help my teammates become better football players just by leading by example. I have a great understanding of the game. I understand the game mentally.
The worst thing you can do is pass on me for another cornerback in this class.
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