Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills WR Curtis Samuel

Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills WR Curtis Samuel

The Buffalo Bills made their first high-profile signing on Thursday evening when they signed WR Curtis Samuel to a 3-year, $24 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.

This move reunites Samuel with new offensive coordinator Joe Brady where he had his most productive season in 2020. During that season, he secured 77 receptions on 97 targets for 851 yards and 3 TD’s. 

Despite that productive season, Samuel could not build off of that as injuries after that season have hampered his availability. Injuries have been a hallmark of Samuel’s career, many of which he has played through with varying degrees of success. 

Below is Curtis Samuel’s publicly reported injury history and concerns moving forward.

Injury History

2017 Carolina Panthers

Hamstring, preseason.

Samuel missed most of training camp due to a hamstring injury as he acclimated from the draft process to the NFL. 

Ankle injury, preseason finale, missed 0 games. 

Once Samuel returned from his hamstring strain, he played in the preseason finale against the Steelers and injured his ankle. There was some initial concern he would not be ready for Week 1, but he ultimately played.

Back injury, Week 3, missed 1 game.

Samuel appeared on the injury report following Week 3 which was reported as a low back sprain. This forced him to miss the Week 4 contest against the New England Patriots.

Right ankle injury, Wednesday practice 11/8.

According to reports, Samuel came down awkwardly on his right ankle in practice and was sore the next day. 

Left ankle fracture, Week 10, missed 7 games.

Samuel suffered a left ankle fracture in the end zone as he dropped a pass. While trying to slow down, he had a Miami Dolphins defender roll into his left ankle as seen below. The initial concern was a high-ankle sprain but further testing revealed that he suffered an ankle fracture with ligament damage. He likely suffered a distal fibular fracture and damaged the ankle ligaments in the surrounding area. 

While not directly relevant to this injury, he did suffer a broken ankle in high school. That prior experience did help him in his recovery. 

2018 Panthers

Ankle injury, activated off PUP during training camp. 

Samuel started the season on the PUP list after suffering a left ankle fracture the prior season. That implies that he was rehabbing all offseason and was unable to participate during OTA’s.

Irregular heartbeat, preseason, required surgery to correct, missed 3 games. 

Towards the end of the preseason, Samuel developed an irregular heartbeat that required a cardiac ablation to correct the issue. As a result, he missed the first three games as he recovered. 

Hamstring injury, Week 12, missed 0 games.

Samuel appeared on the injury report before Week 13 due to a sore hamstring that limited him early in the week. Fortunately, he could get in a full practice and later had no designation for the game. 

2019 Panthers

Shoulder injury, Week 8, missed 0 games.

Samuel was questionable heading into Week 9 following the Week 8 contest against the 49ers with a shoulder injury. According to NBC Sports, “Coach Ron Rivera said Samuel hurt his shoulder when he laid out trying to make a catch against the Niners Sunday.” 

It’s not clear how severe the shoulder injury was whether this was an AC joint sprain or general contusion. 

Hamstring injury, Week 10, missed 0 games. 

The following week, Samuel once again appeared on the injury report with a hamstring designation and did not practice that Wednesday. He increased his practice until he had no designation for the contest against the Green Bay Packers. 

Knee, Week 16, missed 0 games. 

During practice before Week 16, Samuel tweaked his knee which forced him to miss several practices. He still saw a normal complement of snaps but was largely unproductive securing 2 receptions for 17 yards.  

2020 Panthers

Hamstring injury, preseason. 

Samuel once again dealt with hamstring tightness during training camp and sat out several practices. This time, the hamstring tightness happened in the later stages of training camp. 

Knee injury, Week 6, missed 1 game.

Samuel suffered a knee injury against the Atlanta Falcons and was forced to miss the following game against the Chicago Bears. He returned the following week after getting in limited practices that week, questionable heading into the game. He did play but only saw 48% of snaps and had 6 receptions for 48 yards. 

Covid, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Samuel was placed on the COVID/Reserve list ahead of Week 14 but cleared the quarantine window in time to play. 

Hamstring injury, Week 14, missed 0 games.

After playing coming off the COVID list, Samuel suffered another hamstring strain which gave him a questionable designation heading into Week 15. He played through the injury and saw his usual complement of snaps.  

2021 Washington Commanders

COVID, preseason. 

Samuel was placed on the COVID/Reserve list on July 29 and removed on August 9, his second bout with the virus. 

Groin tear, required core muscle repair, missed 7 total games.

Samuel suffered a groin strain during OTA’s and missed mandatory minicamp that June. It wasn’t revealed until later that Samuel had a core muscle injury and had undergone surgery to repair the issue. As a result of the surgery, he started the season on PUP and missed much of training camp including every preseason game. At some point, he was activated to the roster but later placed on injured reserve after roster cutdowns.

He missed the first three games before returning to play in Week 4 but had a setback in Week 5 against the New Orleans Saints. He underwent an anti-inflammatory shot to help with the recovery process during this time too.  This forced him out of the next five games before returning to play against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12.

Hamstring, Week 14, missed 4 games.

After working back from his setback from the groin issue, Samuel began dealing with a hamstring injury that cost him the final four games of the season. 

2022 Commanders 

Illness, Week 5, missed 0 games.

Samuel missed practice before Week 5 due to an illness but had no designation heading into the game. 

Shin injury, Week 10, missed 0 games.

Samuel picked up a shin injury in Week 10 and was limited early in the week though did not have any designations for Week 11.

2023 Commanders

Hip injury, Week 1, missed 0 games.

Samuel picked up a hip injury that did not have many additional details in the Week 1 matchup against Arizona and worked through the injury for the following two weeks until after he played Buffalo in Week 3.

Illness, Week 3, missed 0 games.

Samuel was initially questionable heading into the contest against the Bills before being removed ahead of kickoff due to illness

Quadriceps injury, Week 5, missed 0 games.

He then appeared on the injury report for a quad issue following Week 4 on a short week as they prepared to face Chicago on Thursday night. While he was limited during the week, he did suit up.

Foot injury, Week 7, missed 0 games.

Samuel suffered a foot injury in Week 7 and was limited throughout the week and declared questionable heading into Week 8.

Toe injury, Week 8, missed 1 game. 

After playing through the foot injury, Samuel suffered a toe injury that may have been related to the prior foot injury. This injury combination led to him missing the Week 9 contest against the New England Patriots and saw him be designated as questionable the following week.

Hamstring injury, Week 17, missed 0 games.

Samuel’s final injury of the season came as the team prepared for the season finale in Week 18. He had worked through a hamstring injury during the week but did not have a designation heading into the finale.

Injury Analysis

Despite missing only one game over the past two seasons, Samuel has still been forced to play through many smaller injuries as noted above. He has missed 23 games over 7 seasons with 11 of those coming in the 2021 season. 

There are a variety of injuries that have differing levels of severity and concern moving forward for the next three years. Looking at everything as a whole, he has dealt with soft tissue injuries nearly every year at some point. This has either caused him to miss practice time or outright missed games. 

Even in the games he did play through, how often was Samuel playing at less than 100 percent? There’s a difference between guys playing through injury because it’s a long season, especially at the end versus constantly being on the injury report preseason, early, mid, and late during the season. 

The only injuries I am not concerned about are the two broken ankles and his irregular heartbeat. All issues have been surgically addressed and he has not had any further known issues related to them. 

The soft tissue injuries such as the hamstrings, quad, and groin/core muscle indicate there’s always something going on with him, even if he’s on for just a week. Rarely do these injuries only take a week to recover from and looking at his history, they tend to linger or reoccur. There is a clear pattern, especially with the hamstrings. While wide receivers are known for their speed and do suffer injuries like this, this is a frequent occurrence for Samuel.

Finally, the shoulder, knee, toe/foot, hip, shin, and back have cost him time but many of these injuries were sprains or at least strongly suggest that was the injury. Despite being on the injury report briefly, you can see how there may be compensations later for other injuries in a similar area.

Some things that may have contributed to his injury issues or production include the training staff, quarterbacks under center, or just the overall lack of talent around him. 

Washington scored dead last in terms of facilities and training staff in the latest NFLPA report cards which directly contributed to a player’s recovery. Was he not getting the care he needed to avoid some of these nagging issues? Was the team overreporting the injuries like we see New England do? Some of the training staff did follow Ron Rivera from Carolina when he was hired in Washington. It’s worth highlighting that these issues followed Samuel from Carolina to Washington until he finally caught a break in 2022. 

There has also been discussion that he has not had good quarterbacks throwing to him over his career as seen below. 

Whoever is throwing the ball to him won’t necessarily increase injuries. However, he could have been placed in a bad spot by having to be one of the few targets available. Add in the fact that his teams were often fighting for playoff spots may have also led to him playing through injury. The only time a team that he was on made the playoffs was in 2017 but Samuel was on injured reserve with a broken ankle. When effective depth is not available, then starters have to play through injury. 

Without getting nitpicky, his production and snap counts did vary at times but did not severely drop off even when playing through injury. But it does give pause and wonder what type of production he could have if it wasn’t constantly injured. 

Performing this injury analysis gave me strong Jamison Crowder vibes from an injury perspective. Crowder was also a talented wide receiver who found himself on the injury report often with a variety of injuries during his career. His Bills career was short-lived due to a broken ankle which was more unlucky, but the injury bug followed him at every stop. This is my fear for Curtis Samuel. 

While injuries are somewhat random, how a player focuses on rehab and recovery may dictate their availability. Samuel comes to the Bills who have been the third most conservative team in terms of questionable designations over the last three seasons (53.85%). Interestingly, Washington was fifth most conservative with a 57.95% questionable play rate over the same time frame. This might have contributed to why Samuel has only missed one game over the last two seasons, the healthiest stretch of his career. 

I can see why the Bills front office brought him in as he is a talented player. He has that connection with Joe Brady from Carolina which could unlock his true talent especially with Josh Allen throwing to him. We know the Bills did not pay for Gabe Davis who went to Jacksonville for a handsome payday. This means that even lesser receivers will still make money in free agency and Samuel appears to be a benefactor of this. However, $15 million guaranteed and a three-year deal is rich for the injury concerns. 

Maybe that is the going rate nowadays.

Despite the injury issues the last two seasons, the Bills still have had one of the best teams in the league and also one of the better training staff along with their rehab facility. This may allow Samuel to get the rest, treatment, and potentially a reduced snap count necessary to play as close to 100% every week. 

Looking at Curtis Samuel as a whole, he’s a talented player who the Bills think they can unlock. This may be true, but he’s going to have to stay off the injury report for this to happen. I fear that he misses practices here and there with soft tissue issues. Missing practice for nagging injuries weekly leads to missed reps and lost practice time. Or suffering injuries that cost him extended time during the season. 

For the money they gave him and the contract length, I am not a fan of this signing. 

I see the upside, but I fear that we will pay him to be in the training room more than on the field. For this to work, the Bills are banking he can continue this recent trend of missing minimal time, give him veteran rest days, and generally avoid injury. If he can do that, then they can get Samuel to a new level of production. This is very, very optimistic.

Curtis Samuel has to have everything go right in 2024 and beyond for this to be a worthwhile signing. Otherwise, there may be buyer’s remorse when the injuries begin. 

I wish Curtis Samuel the best of luck in staying healthy and productive in Buffalo this season and beyond.

Top Photo Credit: ESPN