The last time a player who won the league’s MVP that wasn’t a quarterback happened a decade ago in 2012. Adrian Peterson is a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s been so long.
ESPN’s Seth Walder put together a hypothetical list of non-QB MVPs. Walder is in ESPN’s analytics department, so he relied heavily on metrics such as EPA or NFL Next Gen Stats player tracking metrics.
49ers “wide back” Deebo Samuel found himself fourth on the list. But I bet you wouldn’t have guessed one of the names in the top-3. Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp was first, with his teammate Aaron Donald finishing second. Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt finished third.
We’ve normalized Donald’s dominance. He’s an afterthought in these types of awards, which is unfair. He’s the best player in football.
Samuel found himself fourth:
Samuel’s receiving numbers alone wouldn’t get him quite this high on this list. But his receiving and rushing numbers combined? Now we’re talking. Samuel generated plus-65 EPA on his targets and more YAC over expectation (plus-403 yards) than any other player in the league. But he also generated plus-20 EPA as a rusher — more than every running back other than the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor.
Samuel ranked second in rush yards per carry over expectation (plus-1.98) and seventh among all running backs or wide receivers in total rush yards over expectation (plus-113), despite having just 59 carries. In other words, Samuel was a productive receiver and an incredibly efficient runner at the same time. The 49ers ranked seventh in offensive efficiency, and Samuel is a big reason.
A +65 EPA is unheard of. That’s especially the case when you realize Samuel turned screens and slants into 50+ yard plays and sometimes even touchdowns.
Samuel had 22 rushing first downs on those 59 carries. He was the definition of efficient. It’s like in a basketball game when the defense goes out of their way to prevent the player from scoring, and he still scores.
Who finished second in the league among wide receivers in rushing first downs? You guessed it, Kendrick Bourne.
Back to Deebo. He had a broken tackle rate of 18.6%. For comparison, Jonathan Taylor’s was 8.1%. Perhaps the most impressive stat of all was Samuel averaging 3.6 yards after contract.
You can go on and on, citing different metrics about Samuel. What we saw from him in 2021 is unlikely to happen or be topped by another player in the near future.