Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Take notice: There's a new breed of receiver coming out of the college ranks, and San Francisco 49ers WR Deebo Samuel is leading the way.
His name been has been ringing this offseason among NFL talking heads. He's the new standard for receivers who look like running backs. While he's certainly not the first -- in somewhat recent years there's been Florida's do-it-all guy Percy Harvin and Golden Tate out of Notre Dame, both of whom did not play like traditional receivers -- Samuel is the latest of this type of receiver that is becoming increasingly popular and plays multiple roles in an offense.
At 5'11" 214 pounds, Samuel is built like a tank and plays as such. He was the comp for many athletes at the combine who play a different style of receiver. Mostly guys who are viewed as "raw." What exactly does raw mean? Do they have an inability to separate with routes? Are they guys who you don't think can be your "WR1"? Because if so, that's not Deebo Samuel.
Samuel is a weapon and was unleashed as such in Kyle Shanahan's offense in 2019.
As a rookie, Samuel had 159 rushing yards on 14 carries. His explosive runs started week two of the pre-season where he took an end-around 42 yards and nearly scored against the Denver Broncos. It continued into the regular season. His most notable run was against the Seattle Seahawks in front of the 12's when Samuel struck down the left sideline nearly running out of bounds only to spin back into play while eluding Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers and finding himself in the end zone.
With all the flash in Deebo's running ability, are his route-running skills being overshadowed?
Samuel had 57 receptions for 802 yards in 15 games, but is viewed as a "gadget player." I believe this is a term used to uplift receiver prospects who aren't pure receivers. Samuel is a receiver first. Two years ago while watching undrafted rookie free-agent Emmanuel Moseley, I noticed a rep against Samuel where he went lane three (attacking outside shoulder) and then lane one (attacking back inside) before pushing vertical and attacking the ball high point and snagging the contested catch. That didn't look like a gadget player to me.
His nuanced route running didn't stop there. At the Senior Bowl where Shanahan first laid eyes on the future 49er receiver, Samuel put on a route running clinic during one on ones, flashing fancy footwork and the quicks to get in and out of breaks. Cornerbacks had a tough time defending him. Fellow second-round pick Rock Ya-Sin out of Temple took on the challenge of covering Deebo during on on ones. An "iron sharpens iron" type of situation. When I saw Samuel run this double-stick slant I knew he was much more than what they tried to say he was: "A gadget guy."
Throughout the season, Samuel's receiver abilities were on full display. He was utilized both on the outside and in the slot. The 49ers mainly used him on slants, over routes and deep crossers. The Twitter-verse nicknamed him the "Slant God" for his 31 yards per slant he averaged at South Carolina. Against the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football, Deebo took a slant 42 yards, outrunning several Packer defenders to the end zone.
His fearlessness over the middle made him a catch-and-run specialist, but those routes still didn't paint the full picture of what type of receiver Deebo can be. His good feet and twitchy movement skills combined with his strong frame allowed him to consistently beat cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage.
Shaquill Griffin found this out first-hand Week 17 of the NFL season. Samuel beat him inside on several slant routes, but no route was more impressive than an out-route where he attacked the corners inside leverage and right when Deebo caught the cornerback leaning, he stemmed back outside completely losing the Seahawks' starting CB. A very impressive play that showcases his unique skill set as a route runner.
As not only a weapon for Shanahan but a dominating receiver the 49ers desperately need, Deebo Samuel looks to be shaping into a terrific receiver. The 49ers can only hope he continues on this trajectory to being the WR1 they need and changing their narrative that a "Deebo Samuel" type receiver, isn't truly a receiver.
Media courtesy Getty Images
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