There are special players in the NFL… and then there is Deebo Samuel. The San Francisco receiver’s dual-threat abilities as both a receiver and running back have made him an incredible asset to his team. After half a season filling two roles and now one postseason game, it’s beginning to look like Samuel could very well be the most valuable weapon in the NFL. It took a couple of years for the 49ers to find the true potential of their star wideout. Before the 2021 season, he had only started 16 games across his rookie and sophomore seasons after missing much of the 2020 season with a hamstring injury. But even going into 2021, the plan was that Samuel would be a receiver only. He wasn’t really even projected to be their No. 1 receiver after the impressive 2020 rookie season Brandon Aiyuk put together. Then the 49ers’ running backs started going down to injuries while San Francisco slipped to 3-5 after a 2-0 start. Samuel had broken out in the first nine weeks of the season, averaging more than 110 receiving yards per game. The 49ers were leading the NFL in receiving yards, but they still weren’t an efficient offense without any run game. Their record reflected that. Head coach Kyle Shanahan knew he had to make a change, so he began putting Samuel in the backfield. That’s when we got a real taste of just how talented the third-year player is. After just six rushing attempts in his first eight games, Samuel got five carries in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Rams. He put up 36 yards and a touchdown on those touches and he had five catches for 97 more yards and a touchdown. Of the 49ers’ 335 total yards of offense in that game, Samuel accounted for 133 of them, representing nearly 40% of San Francisco’s total offensive output. Since then, the South Carolina product has continued to rack up yards and touches, both in the air and on the ground. As his carries increased, his receptions and targets took a dip. There was no such dip in his production of yards, though. Samuel finished the 2021 regular season third in the NFL with 1,845 all-purpose yards on 136 touches, for an average of 13 yards/touch. That success in both roles has already extended into the playoffs. Samuel once again lit up the stats sheet with not only his three catches for 38 yards but also the 10 carries he had for 72 yards and a touchdown. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1482860341268680704?s=20 Samuel is truly one of the most versatile and dynamic players in all of the NFL. He can charge up the middle to run between the tackles and he can run to the outside with the patience of a veteran running back. He can turn short throws into big gains with his yards-after-catch ability, and he can catch the deep ball when he’s targeted downfield. Samuel is fast, quick, athletic as all get-out, and a very intelligent football player. He knows to be patient when he has to with incredible field vision, and he can make cuts or turn on the jets at the perfect time to make small plays big, and big plays huge. The evolution of the 49ers’ use of Samuel transformed them from one of the league’s bottom teams to a playoff contender, and eventually, a playoff team in the divisional round. Samuel has been an incredible weapon for the 49ers this season, taking on the role of running back when the team’s running back room was depleted early and finding huge success in doing so. There’s no question that he has been the 49ers’ most valuable player this season. With his ability to produce at an elite level as both a receiver and a running back, it’s hard to argue there’s a more valuable weapon in the NFL. As San Francisco has found out, sometimes game plans really can be as simple as “get the ball in our best player’s hands.”
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