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Deebo Samuel’s historic season and meteoric rise to superstardom

Samuel changed the perception about him this season

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Deebo Samuel’s value has long been apparent to 49ers fans, as the dynamic wideout made an immediate impact the moment he put on a 49ers jersey. But this season, we saw Samuel make an ascent into superstardom that has garnered league-wide respect from peers and pundits alike.

Samuel just wrapped up a regular season that saw him eclipse multiple historical milestones, accomplishing things that no player in the history of the sport had ever done prior to him doing so this year. So just how special was this season from the 49ers superstar wideout? I’ll give you a few numbers to put things into context.

Samuel finished this season with 1,770 yards from scrimmage, which ranked 3rd in the entire NFL this season, despite Samuel missing a game. What makes it even more impressive is how those yards were distributed, as Samuel finished the season as the first wide receiver in NFL history to record 1,300+ receiving yards and 300+ rushing yards in the same season. (Samuel finished with 1,405 receiving yards and 365 rushing yards).

Before I go in-depth breaking down Samuel’s production as a runner, I’d like to focus on his receiving numbers because even with those alone, he would be a top 10 player at the position. Samuel’s 1,405 receiving yards ranked 5th in the NFL this year, but the efficiency and ability to maximize the touches he got to get to that number is what really stands out.
Samuel led all qualifying receivers (min. 50 receptions) with 18.2 yards per reception. Samuel was regularly generating explosive plays, ranking 3rd in the NFL in 20+ yard receptions (23) and tied for 1st in 40+ yard receptions (9). While his run after the catch ability played a large part in this (I'll get to that momentarily), Samuel also showed an ability to win contested balls deep down the field consistently.

Samuel led all receivers in the league with 10.4 YAC/per reception, which is absolutely ludicrous. Every time Samuel touched the ball as a receiver, he averaged over 10 yards AFTER he got the ball in his hands. Samuel’s 779 yards after the catch ranked 2nd in the entire NFL, trailing only Cooper Kupp, who finished the year with 846. This number is eye-popping when you consider Kupp had nearly double the number of receptions that Samuel had (146 to 77).

Samuel’s 1,405 yards were the most by a 49ers wide receiver since Terrell Owens had 1,412 in 2001, and only the second time a 49ers player has eclipsed 1,300 receiving yards since Owens did in 2002 (George Kittle’s then record-breaking 1,377 in 2018 being the other). Strictly as a receiver, Samuel had the best season for a 49ers player at the position in over two decades. And that is before factoring in the rushing numbers, which I will do now.

Samuel was an absolute force in the run game, bringing a dynamic element that left opposing defenses in shambles all season. This season, Samuel made history, breaking the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver, with 8. A record stood for 60 years after it was set in 1961 by Lenny Moore of the Baltimore Colts. Even more impressive, six of Samuel’s eight rushing touchdowns came on 10+ yard runs.

Samuel finished the year ranked 4th in the entire NFL in yards per carry (min 50 attempts) with an average of 6.2 yards. I can’t recall ever seeing a receiver or a player of Samuel’s build run the way that he does. The combination of vision and understanding of angles Samuel possesses is at a level that is rarely seen in even the most ELITE ball carriers in this league.

On top of that, I think sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in how physical Samuel is (he led the league with 387 yards after contact this season) that his acceleration tends to be overlooked as a result. Outside of Tyreek Hill, I don’t think I’ve watched another player get to the next gear as quickly as Samuel does this season. His top-end speed is in the upper echelon as well, as Samuel was recorded at 20.07 miles per hour with the ball in his hands on his 79-yard touchdown reception in Week 1 against Detroit.

So all season, opposing defenses have had to account for a player who accelerates with the best of them, has top-end speed at 20+ miles per hour, and led the league in yards after contact. You have a player who runs like a gazelle and hits with the power of a Mack truck, oh and by the way, who also happens to be a gifted route runner and receiver.

Samuel is a player you cannot make a one-to-one comparison to because the truth is, we have never really seen a player who has done the things we have seen Samuel do. Moreover, at only 25 years old, Samuel likely hasn’t even hit his prime yet, which should ignite joy among 49ers fans and instill fear in NFL defenses which will be tasked with slowing him down for many years to come.

But for now, we salute you, Deebo. You just had a season for the history books, and there is no chance that the 49ers are playing a playoff game this weekend if not for your countless contributions this season.