The primary storyline regarding the fantasy football value of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel was whether he would potentially hold out for a new contract or a trade – a $73 million extension over three years signed last weekend solved that problem.
With that out of the way, the question is whether Samuel will keep the same role he had in the second half of last season as both a receiver and a rusher or if the second half of 2021 was an injury-forced double duty.
Most people likely know the 2021 regular-season numbers that Samuel put up as a receiver – 77 catches for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns – and as a rusher – 59 carries for 365 yards and eight touchdowns. What they may not realize or remember is that his rushing numbers came in half a season. In the first eight games, Samuel ran the ball just six times for 22 yards and one touchdown. In his final eight games, he had 53 carries for 343 yards and seven touchdowns. He followed that up with 27 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown in three postseason games.
It was clear that the play calling philosophy changed at midseason due to injuries and once Samuel became a major component in the run offense, the 49ers became a completely different offense capable of hurting a defense in more ways.
In a league built on replication and thievery of ideas that work, many offenses are now looking for their own “Deebo type.” Samuel came out of nowhere last season to become a lethal dual threat. It may not seem like a lot of rushes, but it was how Kyle Shanahan and his staff kept increasing his workload in the running game that stands out – Samuel had five or more rushing attempts in each of his last eight regular-season games and averaged nine carries a game in the playoffs.
An incentive in the three-year extension addresses his dual role. If Samuel rushes for 380 or more yards in a season under the extension, he receives $650,000. If he scores three or more rushing touchdowns in a year, he gets $150,000.
There are legitimate concerns about the beating Samuel will take coming out of the backfield with an entire defense coming after him as opposed to taking on one or two defenders as an outside receiver. There is a reason why running backs have the shortest shelf life of any position in football – they take a pounding and their bodies give out. Samuel has yet to play a full NFL season without missing time due to injury, which has to be considered given his hybrid role and increased injury potential.
Fantasy football outlook
Samuel proved last season he could withstand the beating a runner takes on a weekly basis, and his usage out of the backfield only increased as his success grew. The concern is whether or not the 49ers will overuse him and expose Samuel to too many big hits. Other possible issues of note include how much more efficient he may need to be with Trey Lance stealing opportunities near the end zone, and also Lance’s inexperience potentially causing the entire passing game to take a step back.
For 2022, those factors shouldn’t deter anyone from selecting him. Samuel figures to remain a WR1 who can supply fantasy points in a variety of ways, but we likely saw a career year out of him in 2021.