Former top QB recruit K.J. Carta-Samuels’ reinvented style of play powering success in Germany

For as much as football teams like to talk about its acquisition, talent can be a difficult thing to assess and even harder to quantify. Beyond simple physical attributes, consideration must be made to schematic fit and opportunity, all while gauging a prospect’s future potential as opposed to their current production.

Even at the highest level of the sport, there are those who struggle with this task and even the very best are wrong almost as much as they are right. For every slam dunk prospect, there is a major bust. For every uncovered gem, there is another that slips through the cracks.

One could argue that K.J. Carta-Samuels has been at both ends of that spectrum. The Dresden Monarchs star passer had a college career that never quite lived up to lofty expectations, but three years after graduating from Colorado State he’s demonstrating a level of talent that few might have anticipated.

“I believe that if you put me on a field with a lot of guys in the NFL right now, backups and even some starters, I’m stride for stride with them easily when we’re throwing routes on the field. Now mentally, they might have a leg up on me because they’ve been in the system for a little while and so I would have to learn it, but physically, I know I can throw just as good, if not better than the majority of them,” Carta-Samuels said confidently from his temporary home in Germany.

“That’s arrogant, but to me, it’s honestly just a matter of being seen and having someone else see it.”

KJ Carta-Samuels at University of Washington Photo: Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times

Being seen has never been a problem for the quarterback in the past. Coming out of high school, he was a US Army All-American and a consensus four-star recruit, rated the 10th best pro-style quarterback prospect in the nation. When he committed to Washington, he was viewed as a potential difference-maker for the program. When he elected to transfer after four years as a backup for the Huskies, Colorado State had to steal him away from UCLA and while NFL interest never arose after a strong senior season, he did ink a pro contract with the CFL’s B.C. Lions in 2020.

Now he’s playing the best football of his life, but few talent evaluators are watching.

Through his first six games in the GFL, Carta-Samuels has led his team to a 5-1 record and thrown 2,112 yards and 30 touchdowns compared to just 3 interceptions. The Monarchs look like the easy favourites in the GFL North and their quarterback might just be the best in Europe right now.

Few players of Carta-Samuels pedigree ever make their way overseas but while he doesn’t lack for confidence, the quarterback possessed the necessary humility to seize the opportunity.

“It was just a no-brainer. I wanted to continue playing, but I had also never been to Europe so it was something that definitely peaked my interest in terms of being curious about what it’s like over here in Germany and in Europe in general,” he said. “It was a great opportunity that came along and I just jumped on it.”

He’s also refreshingly honest about how he finds himself in Germany. Signed ahead of the canceled 2020 CFL season, the B.C. Lions released Carta-Samuels before he ever got a chance to compete for his first pro job. A brand new front office staff in Vancouver preferred other prospects and he doesn’t blame them in the slightest.

“My game has completely shifted and I’ve become a completely different player within the last year and a half. I’m playing with such a different style and even aptitude than I ever have in my entire life. The only reason I got brought on by B.C. in the first place was how I threw in person and this new staff hadn’t seen that,” Carta-Samuel explained.

“I wasn’t surprised at all. They probably watched my Colorado State tape and thought ‘meh,’ but they didn’t see where I’ve gotten to now.”

Colorado State quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels rolling out in game against Colorado Photo: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The secret to a reinvigorated Carta-Samuels is that he’s acknowledged his past shortcomings in order to move forward. He’s no longer the high school standout, the Washington backup or the Colorado State transfer, but an entirely new player that has been transformed largely in the years since he left college.

The process has been a long one and derives its inspiration from one event in his recruiting process. In 2013, Carta-Samuels was one of the finalists for the Elite 11, an annual showcase competition for the best quarterback recruits in the country. 24 of the 32 NFL starting quarterbacks have attended the event, as have 13 of the last 14 Heisman winners. Finishing in the Top 11 along with Carta-Samuels that year was future NFL quarterbacks Brad Kaaya, David Blough, Kyle Allen, Will Grier, and Deshaun Watson. A kid named Patrick Mahomes couldn’t make the cut for the national competition.

Years later, those players were budding stars as Carta-Samuels languished down the depth chart. It forced him to ask himself why.

“When I’m sitting on my couch and I’m watching Deshaun Watson in the National Championship and thinking about the fact that four years previous to that I was throwing right next to him in a camp, I started seeing where we kind of branched off. I was the backup, I wasn’t even playing, and this guy was about to beat Bama and win the National Championship. It made me start to realize that I always had the skill and I always had the ability, physically I was gifted enough, I just had to figure it out mentally,” he admitted.

“That’s what the Elite 11 did for me. It basically gave me this expectation or realization that I have everything I need physically to become the best at this game, I just need to figure out mentally and mechanically how to make my play the best. It was because of that experience that actually is what pushed me into reinventing myself.”

He forced himself to watch the game with fresh eyes and without bias, looking for the things top quarterbacks were doing that coaches weren’t teaching him. It helped him break out as a senior, but the biggest changes came after. As he worked with his older brother to coach young QBs since graduating, he’s completely altered his throwing mechanics. Gone is the over-the-top robotic release he was taught, replaced by the looser and more natural delivery patented by players like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, the player he was once ranked above as a prospect.

“I completely changed my style. If you think about a fighter that does jujitsu and then he adds a new style to his fighting, it’s the same thing for quarterbacking,” Carta-Samuels explained. “I used to throw a certain type of way and I basically went back to the lab, studied the position super hard and made all these changes to my games, so that now I have other skills that I didn’t have before.”

Photo: Nicol Marschall

The results speak for themselves. Playing live football again for the first time in years, he’s more accurate with his delivery and making big plays with considerably more ease. Carta-Samuels is comfortably the leading passer in Germany and doesn’t appear like he’ll relinquish that title anytime soon.

While he’s still adjusting to the intellectual demands inherent with being an import quarterback in Europe, responsible for imparting in teammates the technical and schematic knowledge that becomes second nature in Americans who have played the game since childhood, Carta-Samuels hasn’t had to dumb down his timing and delivery. The Monarchs‘ receiving corps of Darrell Stewart Jr, Robin Wilzeck, Radim Kalous, Antek Podgorski, and now Anthony Brooks is as good as any he had in college in his estimation and they’ve given him every opportunity to showcase his improved ability.

Only time will tell if that performance earns him a chance to prove his worth at the next level, but Carta-Samuels is remaining honest with himself about the likelihood. The phone is not yet ringing off the hook and pro scouts aren’t likely to reassess him over success in Germany, choosing instead to label his talent based on spotty past performance from a player who no longer looks anything like his last major college film. He’s hopeful, but not expectant.

Instead, Carta-Samuels is remaining focused on what he can control and soaking in the success he always knew he was capable of. Right now, the Dresden offense looks unstoppable and a German Bowl run is on the horizon, with a tough matchup against the revitalized New Yorker Lions this week.

There is no promise that the quarterback’s refreshed style of play will bring him anything more than personal satisfaction, but it will certainly win the Monarchs a few more important games.

Watch the Dresden Monarchs host the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions, Saturday, August 14 at 15:00 (3 pm, 09:00 am ET)

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.