Deebo Samuel is a unique talent who continues to make a name for himself as a prototype skill player - the type that has offensive coordinators licking their chops to get a hold of. Samuel is a crafty route-runner who adds another dimension to Kyle Shanahan's offense with his ability to rack up yards after the catch and put defenders in a bind.
Even Trent Williams and former 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman were forced to mention his name and dynamism on the Cris Collinsworth podcast last month, comparing his skill set to the likes of some of the most potent pass catchers to play the game.
"Deebo is one of my favorite players because I feel like he possesses something that I don't really see in a lot of people and I told him that my first week (in San Francisco) when I was watching last year's clips. I'm like, 'Bro, I've never seen anything like that," Williams said. "With him knowing what to expect from an NFL game now, I think this can be one of those years - first Pro Bowl year-type stuff."
Added Sherman: "It's something you definitely never see in receivers. Sometimes you see it in running backs, but he's a hunter for contact and he always thinks he's getting through it. He's not hunting just to run you over. He's hunting because, 'I think I'm going to run you over and I'm going to keep going.'"
In his first year in San Francisco, Samuel bested Hall of Famer Jerry Rice's franchise record for most receptions by a 49ers rookie. Despite coming off of an injury-marred season in 2020, Samuel appeared in 22 games through his first two years in San Francisco and amassed nearly 1,200 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He also added 185 yards rushing and three additional scores while averaging over 12 yards per touch during that span.
What stands out about Samuel's production is his ability to create yards above expectation and force missed tackles after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads all NFL wide receivers with 36 forced missed tackles since 2019.
NFL teams have been looking to replicate the success San Francisco demonstrated with their dual-threat wideout and could look to do so in this year's draft.
Pro Football Focus recently identified several upcoming prospects as the best YAC receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. Equivalently, ESPN football analyst Mel Kiper Jr. highlighted several of the same upcoming prospects with skill sets parallel to those of Samuel's: Florida's Kadarius Toney, Purdue's Rondale Moore, Clemon's Amari Rodgers and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace.
"Deebo's kind of a unique talent because he'll just take guys and bulldoze you," Kiper Jr. said. "I do think Deebo was almost like a big running back playing wide receiver. He was that versatile guy like (Washington Football Team running back) Antonio Gibson that came out of Memphis. So, those are guys that give you a little bit more of a dimension than most of these guys coming out this year will give you."
Last season, Toney led Florida's offense with 70 receptions for 984 yards (14.1 per reception) and 10 touchdowns (tied for seventh-most in the FBS). He also added 19 carries for 161 yards, (8.5 yards per carry) and another score in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, his missed tackle per touch rate of 35 percent since 2018 is the highest among draft-eligible receivers. The 6-foot, 193-pound Florida product notched the second-most receptions of 15 or more yards from the slot last season (23) and ranked inside the 90th percentile for both yards after the catch per reception (8.77) and forced missed tackles per reception (0.358).
"Toney is a guy that gives you a lot of that ability after the catch to make people miss," Kiper Jr. said.
Like Toney, Moore ranked inside the 90th percentile in both yards after the catch per reception (7.5) and forced missed tackles per reception (0.264) among qualifying wideouts, per PFF. In 2018, he ranked inside the top 10 among Power 5 receivers in yards after the catch per reception (7.8) and forced missed tackles per reception (0.325). Only Samuel ranked ahead of him in both statistical categories during his time at South Carolina. In 20 career games with the Boilermakers, Moore recorded 1,915 yards on 178 receptions and 14 touchdowns to add to 248 rushing yards and three rushing scores. Kiper Jr. called Moore a "compact guy" who shares similar traits to Samuel.
Rodgers closed out his career at Clemson with 181 total receptions for 2,144 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. He also registered 68 career punt returns for 529 yards (7.8 average) including one returned for a touchdown. He became only the fifth Clemson player since 2000 to record touchdowns by rush, reception and punt return their collegiate career. Rodgers averaged 7.9 yards after the catch per reception and 0.215 forced missed tackles per reception with the Tigers, ranking inside the 93rd and 83rd percentile among qualifying wideouts, respectively, according to PFF.
Kiper Jr. also mentioned Wallace as an option who could be available in the second round of the draft. During his four seasons at Oklahoma State, Wallace recorded 205 receptions for 3,434 yards and 26 touchdowns. Among 2021 prospects, Wallace tied for second in contested catches (21) since 2019, per Pro Football Focus.
Whether adding another talent of Samuel's aptitude appears to be in the 49ers plans or not, San Francisco could look to the draft to add pass catching talent to a rather thin receiving corps.
Beyond Samuel and former first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco lacks much proven depth at the position. Nonetheless, the opportunity for Shanahan and Co. to land yet another playmaker in a deep wide receiver class should add another layer to the creativity and production of San Francisco's offense in 2021.
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