Every year during the pre-draft process, we discuss which prospect entering the league compares favorably to a player who just took the NFL by storm. In recent memory, we’ve seen teams and fans alike bend over backward in search of the next ‘insert player name here.’
During the time I spent in Indianapolis at the scouting combine, there was one name I heard thrown around more than any other in regards to teams trying to obtain a prospect capable of emulating the skill set of a current NFL player. That name was Deebo Samuel.
At this moment, there is tremendous uncertainty regarding Samuel and the star wide receiver’s future with the San Francisco 49ers. While it’s been reported that Samuel no longer wants to play for the 49ers and has requested a trade from the team, general manager John Lynch made it very clear during Monday’s presser that the 49ers don’t have any interest in accommodating Samuel’s request.
Part of what makes Samuel so valuable is the fact he is such a unique player, with a skill set that allows him to do things on the football field that are unprecedented by the wide receiver position.
I would never argue that Samuel is a player that would be easy to replace. That kind of distinctive skill set isn’t something that comes along every day, but what if this year was the exception? What if there was a player in this week’s upcoming draft class who could do the things that Samuel has done and not only embrace but thrive in a similar role.
The San Francisco 49ers' star wide receiver is coming off of a historic season that saw him become the first wide receiver in NFL history to record 1,300+ receiving yards and 300+ rushing yards in a single season. Samuel broke the traditional mold of how a wide receiver can be utilized at the sports' highest level, creating a tremendous mismatch for opposing defenses over the course of the 2021 season.
Samuel’s ability to line up all over the field, particularly as a threat in the backfield, kick-started a 49ers offense that had stalled out during a 3-5 start to the season. That kind of versatility is highly coveted amongst NFL teams, and it begs the question, who among this current crop of prospects might be able to provide that same positional flexibility?
Look no further than Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks. Burks is coming off of a season that saw him post over 1,100 receiving yards while averaging 8.9 yards per attempt as a rusher. At 6’2, 225 pounds, Burks also possesses the ideal physical build for a role similar to what Samuel took on in San Francisco this past season.
Burks’ production mirrors a lot of what has made Samuel so successful at the NFL level, particularly when you dive into his numbers after the catch. Burks ranked 6th in the entire nation in Yards After the Catch in 2021, with 607 yards. He averaged 9.3 yards after the catch per reception, which ranked second in the nation among wide receivers with at least 50 receptions in 2021.
For comparison, Samuel ranked 2nd in the NFL in YAC with 784 yards, and his 10.2 yards after the catch per reception ranked first among receivers with at least 50 receptions. Samuel and Burks both possess the ability to shred defenses in space when the ball is in their hands, but their physicality is what really sets them apart.
Samuel finished the 2021 season with 20 missed tackles forced after a reception, and Burks had 15 himself. Burks’ deadly combination of open field elusiveness and the willingness to go through defenders while running north to south will be highly sought after by NFL franchises.
That physicality potentially gives teams the avenue to utilize Burks out of the backfield as Kyle Shanahan did with Samuel this past season. While the volume of carries wasn’t tremendously high, Burks made the most of his rushing attempts by averaging 8.9 yards per carry and 3.14 yards after contact per carry.
Here is a comparison of Burks and Samuel during their respective 2021 seasons
Yards per reception - 18.2
Yards after catch per reception - 10.2
Missed tackles forced after reception - 20
Rushing yards per attempt - 6.2
Yards after contact per rushing attempt - 4.71
Yards per reception - 16.9
Yards after catch per reception - 9.3
Missed tackles forced after reception - 15
Yards after contact per rushing attempt - 8.9
Yards after contact per rushing attempt - 3.14
Now let’s look at the usage splits based on snaps per position
Backfield - 80
Inline - 6
Slot - 209
Wide - 536
Backfield - 36
Inline - 19
Slot - 529
Wide - 132
During his media availability at the NFL scouting combine, Burks spoke a bit about his own versatility. Here are some quotes from his presser that are relative to the comparisons to Samuel.
What makes you the best wide receiver in this class?
“I would say just my physicality, able to be used at multiple positions. I can play outside receiver, inside receiver, and running back. It doesn’t matter. That sets me apart from everybody else.”
Burks was later asked about who he compares his own game to and the players that he watches. Here is his response.
“I’ve watched a lot of Deebo Samuel, just the way he plays RB, inside, outside. That’s who I try to mimic my game after.”
I then followed that up by asking Burks if he would be willing to embrace a role similar to what Samuel took on with the 49ers this past season, to which he replied:
“Yes, I would.”
Burks made it no secret that his versatility is one of his greatest strengths, and he also was not shy about letting teams know he was willing to take on any role that would help whatever team he was a part of.
When asked if the jack of all trades role he thrived in was hard, Burks responded by saying, “No, sir. Just as long as you put your mind to it, it’s something that will help the team.”. He later was asked what he wants teams to know about him, to which he said, “I just want them to know I’m a team player, I put the team before myself. I’ll just go out there and play ball for the organization I’m a part of.”
Based on everything Burks said and the play he put on tape at Arkansas, a role similar to Samuel is certainly in play for him at the next level. These comparisons are always tough because, generally, a player like Samuel is one of one for a reason.
To conclude, It’s not fair to place the expectation on Burks that he will mirror Samuel’s incredible level of production as a top-notch receiver as well as an elite ball carrier. Burks can still be a very effective weapon for any NFL team willing to get a bit creative with their own offensive scheme.
The Arkansas standout doesn’t have to be the next Deebo Samuel to have a successful NFL career, he will do just fine being the first Treylon Burks.