It’s Time to Talk About Deebo Samuel As One of the NFL’s Elite
I want you to think back to October 31st, 2021. The San Francisco 49ers, sitting at 2–4 amid a four-game losing streak, were in Chicago to square off against the Bears. The offense had been nonexistent for the 49ers as they trailed the Bears 16–9 in the 3rd quarter. They found themselves facing 3rd and 20 backed up in their own territory looking like a 5th consecutive, and potentially season destroying, loss was on its way. Then, Deebo happened.
The 49ers called a screen pass to wide receiver Deebo Samuel in a desperate attempt to get the first down. With the help of some quality blocking, Deebo was able to get the first down, but he wasn’t done running at the sticks, he kept going, and going, and going until he was pushed out of bounds after a gain of 83 yards. The 49ers were able to punch the ball in later in the drive and eventually went on to win the game. That play from Deebo saved the 49ers’ season, allowing them to go 8–3 over the final 11 games of the regular season.
He won’t get any votes, but the 3rd year stud out of South Carolina should be in the conversation for MVP this year. Deebo put up a stat line we have never seen from a wide receiver before. He ended the year with 1405 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns and added another 365 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns, becoming the first WR to lead his team in rushing TD and the first player in NFL history with 1400 receiving yards and 300 rushing yards. For good measure, he added a passing touchdown in a must-win Week 18 game against the Rams. If you’re keeping track at home, that means all together Deebo finished with 1770 total yards and 15 total touchdowns.
The 49ers would not be where they are today if not for Deebo Samuel. Time and time again we have seen Deebo come up with big plays in timely moments. Over the last 9 games he has played, including Sunday’s playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Deebo has scored a touchdown or had over 100 yards in all of them. The 49ers are 8–1 in those games. What head coach Kyle Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel have done with Deebo this year is nothing short of brilliant, but also extraordinarily simple: get your best player the ball. The concept alone seems so basic, but it’s the execution of it that has made the results what they are. Deebo has always excelled at creating yards after the catch, YAC. It’s one of the reasons why if you watch a 49ers game you will see him running routes that set up YAC potential, screens, slants, drift concepts, etc. The 49ers took that to the next level this year and eliminated the middle man, lining Deebo up at running back frequently and handing it off to him directly. Deebo possesses the right combination of elite running ability and vision to make this possible. If the 49ers wanted to line Deebo up exclusively at running back they could, and he would be one of the league-best. In fact, among rushers with more than 53 designed rush attempts this year, Deebo led the league in expected points added (EPA) per rush.
But what makes Deebo so unique is his versatility. Sure they could use him as only a running back or only a wide receiver and he would be one of the better players in the league at either of those positions. The fact that he can play both positions and at a high level is what makes him so special. Deebo even recently referred to himself as a “wide-back.” We have seen gadget players who do similar things to Deebo before. Guys like Percy Harvin or Cordarrelle Patterson, very good, effective players, but they can’t hold a candle to what Deebo accomplished this year. Deebo Samuel is the most irreplaceable skill position player in the league. If Davante Adams went down, the Packers could find another receiver. The Titans were able to get by and thrive without Derrick Henry for half the year. That would not be the case for San Francisco and Deebo Samuel. If it were not for Deebo, the 49ers would not have made the playoffs this year. The franchise would have had their fourth losing season in five years and there would be major questions in the organization from top to bottom. But guess what? They do have Deebo. The 49ers have this incredible, unicorn-like, never-before-seen player who is leading them on a playoff run. He is an elite player who should be in the conversation as one of the best players in the entire NFL. It’s time we gave Deebo his respect.