Finding the next Deebo Samuel easier said than done for NFL teams

Deebo Samuel was something the NFL has never seen, but someone everyone knew growing up. Maybe you were the Deebo of your neighborhood yourself. Be it sports or anything else, everyone knew this person who was just awesome at everything she did.

While the 49ers’ star offensive weapon seems to change the way the game can be played every time it hits the field, in reality, it brings it back to the playing field.

Catch, run, throw. Deebo Samuel is the ultimate compliment for a football player. It is exactly that: A football player, no label needed.

It’s no surprise teams have tried to replicate it in the draft over the past two years, and it’s no surprise they’ve failed. That won’t stop teams from trying to find the next Samuel no matter how unsuccessful. His success this season is sure to have teams looking even harder and figuring out how best to utilize their best athletes.

If anything, however, 2021 was just the best example that there is only one Deebo.

“I think any time people step into uncharted territory, it opens people’s minds,” 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel told reporters Thursday. “If you’ve watched any of the draft reports over the last two years, people have been trying to find the next Deebo.

“The problem is there is a Deebo. Maybe this opportunity will open him up to other guys with his skills.”

Antonio Gibson, who was more of a catcher at the University of Memphis and is now only running back for Washington, was supposed to be the Samuel of the 2020 draft and was probably the closest in production. He finished his second season with 1,331 total yards – 1,037 as a running back and 294 as a receiver. Gibson also scored 10 total touchdowns this season, including seven on the ground and three through the air.

Players like Kadarius Toney, Rondale Moore and a handful of others were considered the 2021 version of Samuel for their abilities to miss defenders in college. Toney had just 426 scrimmage yards as a rookie and failed to score a touchdown. Moore had 511 scrimmage yards and scored just one touchdown.

Arkansas’ Treylon Burks is considered the Deebo Samuel of this year’s draft class for his burly height — 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds — physical style and versatility. Burks had 1,123 receiving yards as a junior last season with 11 touchdowns, and added 112 rushing yards and another touchdown.

Samuel, in his third year, finished the regular season with 1,770 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns while missing a game through injury. Listed as a wide receiver, he made 77 receptions for 1,405 yards and caught six touchdowns. Although tied for 24th in the league in receptions, he was fifth in yards. His 18.2 receiving yards led the NFL, and he also led the league in receiving yards after contact with 387.

On the ground, he carried the ball 59 times for 395 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and had six 10+ rushing touchdowns, which was NFL highs. His eight rushing touchdowns are the most ever by a receiver.

Samuel became the first receiver in NFL history to have 1,300+ receiving yards and 300+ rushing yards in the same season, while breaking numerous 49ers records.

He ranked third in the NFL in total yards and his 15th and final touchdown of the regular season was a 24-yard pass to Jauan Jennings to tie the game late in the third quarter of the 49ers’ win over the Rams. of Los Angeles in the final to reach the playoffs.

Still, McDaniel says the 49ers are still adjusting to how best to use Samuel. Coaches usually want to see a player master a skill before moving on. With Deebo, it’s different. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said earlier this season that Samuel is never in the running back room during meetings and sometimes learns a game as a running back during the visit just before running it.

“That’s what’s so impressive and what Deebo is a natural football player,” the full-back said almost a month ago. “He doesn’t need to be told too much. He can just go for it and he knows what’s right for him.”

Even Kyle Shanahan admits the 49ers didn’t know Samuel would give them so many options when they selected him in the second round of the 2019 draft. They never knew he’d be able to line up in the backfield and sometimes being their best running back. They were going for a physical receiver before the draft and Samuel was the perfect fit.

It was so much more.

McDaniel and Shanahan are two of the smartest attacking minds in football. They were given perhaps the best weapon in the game, which sounds like a dream scenario.

“It’s a competitive challenge, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” McDaniel said. “It’s something you really dream of as a coach in terms of being able to use people in different ways to try to find advantageous looks for the attack in general. I would say that we challenge ourselves to open our mind and to really see how we can do our best to stress a defense.

“But don’t twist it – it’s a good stress, something you challenge yourself with because all it does is ease the stress on game days for teammates and coaches. It’s a lot easier to figure things out on Monday and Tuesday when the problem you’re trying to solve is, ‘How can I get this guy the ball?’ On game day, “Hey, Deebo, here’s the ball.”

“It’s the best thing you can imagine for a coach.”

RELATED: McDaniel focused on 49ers, not head coaching possibilities

Samuel had 802 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns as a rookie. He also had 159 rushing yards and three more touchdowns, giving us some insight into how Shanahan could use the South Carolina product. But that was put on hold as injuries limited Samuel to just seven games last season.

Going into year 3, Samuel has had his best offseason and recently became a father for the first time. His birthday is the day before the 49ers playoff game this Sunday with the Dallas Cowboys, and McDaniel thinks he sees a better Deebo on a daily basis. From Shanahan to McDaniel and so many other 49ers decision makers, Samuel’s skills have always been evident. It was his growth and maturity as a person off the pitch that allowed him to grow so much on the pitch.

And that’s what makes McDaniel most proud of Samuel’s historic season.

“He impresses me because he’s a guy with an incredible drive to improve,” McDaniel said. “He’s such a cool personality, he never seems stressed and it’s kind of a misrepresentation of his diligence in advancing his craft. I think he’ll be done worrying about getting better when he will start making about 50-55 yards and then his game is over.

“Otherwise he works day in and day out to do his best and take advantage of the opportunity. He’s a wise 25-year-old, soon to be 26 on Saturday, and he’s getting better as we progress. And as a result, the 49ers are getting better, too.”

Teams will continue to search for the next Deebo Samuel. He brought backyard football into the spotlight in a way we never thought possible. The rare ability to combine everything listed above is what makes its reproduction truly unlikely.

There’s a reason sequels often aren’t as good as the original, and the 49ers have a real OG in Deebo.

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