Monday night’s performance against the Los Angeles Rams was the icing on the cake.
In what has developed into an ultra-impressive campaign, the progression and uniqueness of Deebo Samuel’s game has drawn a brighter spotlight onto one of football’s most versatile playmakers.
“Deebo is a unique talent," Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “Just the durability of the guy, the route running ability, the mental capacity just to keep everything he has in his head that he has to do on a week-to-week basis, it's really impressive. The dude can play multiple positions and he's earned everything he's gotten."
Lined up in the slot, out at X, or in the backfield where Samuel has enjoyed an increased workload as a ball-carrier, the former 2019 second-round selection has reaped the rewards of a workload unmatched by many in football. After a substandard showing (in his own terms) in which Samuel totaled just five receptions for 63 yards in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, a bounce-back performance on the national stage against Sean McVay’s Rams was an act we’ve become oh so familiar with through 10 weeks.
A YAC monster, a category in which he leads all wideouts to the tune of 256 yards AFTER first contact, Samuel has become a bear to defend for a full 60 minutes. What makes his year so special has been the mock musical chairs act from head coach Kyle Shanahan at the quarterback position. After selling the farm to move up and select FCS standout Trey Lance No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, it’s been the oft-criticized and oft-injured Garoppolo who’s captained the ship thus far, leaning on Samuel to shoulder the offensive workload with injuries suffered in the running backs room and to All-Pro pass-catcher George Kittle.
Currently second in the league in yards receiving (979) to Rams wideout Cooper Kupp (1,141), Samuel's total on the season also represents the second-most yards through nine games in 49ers franchise history. Also averaging 18.1 yards per catch, don’t let his stout, almost running back build fool you from his ability to stack corners and win on the outside.
However, where Samuel makes his money, and what makes him so unique, is how he’s winning, and where.
While the majority of pass-catchers around the league win far beyond the LOS, Samuel’s knack for finding creases on designated touches behind the line makes it nearly impossible to completely take him out of a game. While the league’s boundary elites in Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, and Kupp dominate far beyond the sticks using their diverse route tree, powerful hands, and 50/50 ball prowess to wrangle down the rock in their own distinct ways, the way in which Samuel hangs his hat as a V-12 bulldozer after quick-hitters presents traits only Samuel has displayed consistently this fall.
An average depth of target at 8.1 yards through 10 weeks, a drastic increase from 2.2 last fall, Samuel is only now starting to become more of a vertical threat in Shanahan’s ever-developing offense, a scary notion to think about considering how Shanahan will continue to evolve with Lance under center in the foreseeable future. With an explosive 39-inch vertical laced within his near 220-pound makeup, smaller corners have found themselves hanging on for dear life on the perimeter when faced with Samuel in the open field, and larger, stronger safeties are often caught seeing “SAMUEL” on the back of his jersey on his way to paydirt due to his excellent short-area burst and high-level contact balance.
As players and schemes continually evolve, a talent like Samuel has become the poster child for a do-it-all threat with a seemingly endless variety to his game. The 49ers’ go-to target in every high-leverage situation this fall, his presence alongside Kittle should present more than enough substance for whomever Shanahan opts to place under center down the road.
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