The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
Fantasy managers love predictability and tend to underestimate year-to-year volatility grossly. We tend to believe a player’s most recent output is their most likely future output, even if surrounding conditions have changed materially. For those reasons, Deebo Samuel is a divisive player entering the 2022 draft season. On the one hand, Samuel delivered an elite fantasy season a year ago in part by becoming a hybrid running back. On the other hand, he reportedly disliked his usage last year and wants to return to a more traditional receiving role. Will head coach Kyle Shanahan acquiesce to Samuel’s wishes? And how will the transition to Trey Lance at quarterback change the calculus?
- Samuel delivered a top-3 fantasy season last year and is in his prime
- His evolution into a hybrid running back has few historical comparables
- His usage as a running back didn’t change his fantasy value
- His rushing touchdown production Is unquestionably unsustainable
- A revamped coaching staff and Trey Lance’s ascension add uncertainty
A Top-3 Fantasy Receiver
Tyshun Raequan “Deebo” Samuel didn’t profile as a league-winning WR1 entering last season. After a promising rookie year in 2019 (961 yards and six touchdowns), Samuel regressed in 2020. He missed nine games, including an early-season stint on injured reserve, dealing with a broken foot, followed by two hamstring absences and a bout of COVID-19. His 33 catches for 391 yards and one touchdown over seven games pro-rated to an equally uninspiring 75 receptions for 894 yards and 2.3 touchdowns.
Fantasy managers who focused on Samuel’s talent and opportunity and looked past his 2020 injury luck were handsomely rewarded.
- 121 targets
- 77 receptions
- 63.6% catch rate
- 1,405 receiving yards
- 18.2 yards per reception
- 6 receiving touchdowns
- 59 rushes
- 365 rushing yards
- 8 rushing touchdowns
- WR3 (PPR)
An Unusual Hybrid Role
After a litany of injuries left the 49ers' running back corps barren, head coach Kyle Shanahan did something unexpected. He took his No. 1 receiver, who was second in the league (behind Cooper Kupp) in receiving yards, and converted him into a hybrid player who frequently lined up at tailback. Samuel rushed the ball 59 times for 365 yards and 8 touchdowns. It’s exceedingly rare for a receiver to carry the ball 50 times in a season. In fact, it’s only happened six times in the last 20 years.
Wide Receivers with 50+ Carries in a Season (2002-2021)
The only modern player remotely comparable to Samuel was Percy Harvin. He also rushed 50+ times while catching 70+ receptions. The difference is Harvin wasn’t an explosive receiver, averaging approximately 11 yards per catch, whereas Samuel averaged a league-leading 18.2 yards.
Disdain for the Role
Although Samuel thrived as a ball carrier, he wasn’t happy with the role. He publicly requested a trade and reiterated his desire to be moved multiple times leading up to the NFL draft. The 49ers organization paid lip service to exploring a potential move but ultimately kept Samuel on the roster. Barring a sudden change of plans, Samuel will play in San Francisco again this season. But was Samuel placated by the coaches? Was he promised a return to a more conventional receiving role? We won’t know that until it’s directly addressed in training camp or on the field.
The Myth of His Fantasy Evolution
It’s frustrating when narrative overtakes reality. Too many fantasy managers reading this think Samuel’s fantasy stardom directly coincided with his morphing into a hybrid running back. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Deebo Samuel 1st and 2nd Half Season Splits, 2021
In eight games as a conventional receiver, Samuel averaged 21.2 PPR fantasy points. In eight games as a hybrid runner, he averaged 21.1 PPR fantasy points. He was the identical fantasy player, at least in PPR formats (in non-PPR Samuel’s value did increase as a ball carrier).
Samuel’s equivalent fantasy value before and after his transformation is a vital piece of the puzzle, particularly if the 49ers return him to a conventional receiving role in 2022. If you’re avoiding Samuel at his ADP because you think he will lose the rushing stats, you’re worrying about the wrong thing.
Samuel was still the 11th-best fantasy receiver, even if you remove rushing statistics from the equation altogether.
Top 25 Fantasy Receivers, 2021 -- Based Solely on Receiving Statistics
Beware of Touchdown Regression
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