Deebo Samuel rushing stats: How the 49ers’ WR1 doubles as a running back in Kyle Shanahan’s offense

Deebo Samuel has become one of the most dynamic weapons in the NFL for the 49ers this season.

The 49ers’ third-year receiver has in the past shown the ability to rush effectively with the ball and use his speed along the outside to present a dangerous receiving threat on the field, but this season, he’s put everything together in a way that has made him invaluable to Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Samuel not only leads the team in receiving yards with 1,088, but he also paces the squad with seven rushing touchdowns this year. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, a player has never led his team in receiving yards and rushing touchdowns in the same season.

“With Deebo, it’s game by game, how can we get him the ball?” offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said, according to the ESPN report. “Some games you’ll see him in the backfield more, some games you won’t. It all depends on the defense and how we’re able to get him the ball and what advantages it presents for the rest of the offense.”

Just how have the 49ers made the most of their unique player? Sporting News breaks it down.

Deebo Samuel rushing stats

For starters, let’s take a look at what he has accomplished this season. Samuel has 1,088 receiving yards on 61 receptions, five of which have gone for scores. He’s also rushed 39 times for 269 yards and scored seven times on the ground.

Samuel played in only seven games in 2020, but when he was used in his rookie season in 2019, he was deployed in a similar fashion to this year, as he caught 57 passes for 802 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed 14 times for 159 yards and three more scores.

Here’s some context on those numbers. According to Stathead, his seven rushing touchdowns are the second-most ever by a wide receiver, behind only Taysom Hill in 2020, who was more of a hybrid-quarterback-running back-wide receive than traditional receiver anyway. On top of that, he is one of only six players to have rushed for more than 200 yards in a season and tallied at least 1,000 receiving yards in a season, according to Stathead. This is the company he shares.

Player Position Team Year Receiving Yards Rushing Yards
Charley Taylor WR-RB Redskins 1966 1,119 262
Lionel James WR-RB Chargers 1985 1,027 516
Roger Craig RB 49ers 1985 1,016 1,050
Marshall Faulk RB Rams 1999 1,048 1,381
Christian McCaffrey RB Panthers 2019 1,005 1,387
Deebo Samuel WR 49ers 2021 1,088 269

What stands out right away is that three of the players are exclusively running backs, while two of them were hybrid players more similar to the role Samuel has played this season.

The company he keeps gets even more exclusive, however, as Schefter also reported that he is one of only three players with 1,000 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns, joining Craig from 1985 and Faulk from 1999.

How the 49ers’ WR1 fits as a running back

So how is Samuel being used? According to Pro Football Focus’ snap counts, he has lined up in the backfield 50 times, in the slot 171 times and out wide 455 times.

His usage as a running back has been fairly consistent. When he’s carried the football, it has almost always come on first or second down, as he has been handed the ball 18 times on first down and 17 times on second down, according to Stathead. The usage has come most often when facing between seven and 10 yards to go (72.5 percent of his carries).

The data from Stathead found that on average, he rushes with the ball with his team 40 yards away from the opposing end zone, and he’s only been used nine times when rushing within the red zone.

When Samuel is handed the ball, the goal has been to make the most of his speed as opposed to use him to try and bull ahead for yardage. As such, 25 of his rushing attempts have been either left end (14) or right end (11), while only eight have been up the middle, according to Stathead, and that has been effective. He’s particularly dominant rushing to the right end, where he has averaged 11.4 yards per carry, while he’s averaging 6.3 to the left end and 4.8 up the middle.

The plan for when to throw him the ball is often similar. The 49ers have tried to get him the ball quickly on shorter passes and let him use his speed to get more after the catch. Pro Football Focus says that 59.8 percent of his targets have come on either short distances (0 to nine yards) or behind the line of scrimmage, while only 12 percent of his targets have been deep. Most of the targets have come in the middle of the field, too, with Pro Football Focus listing him as having 23.9 percent of his targets intermediate center and 34.8 percent of his targets short center. Despite the high volume of short passes to Samuel, four of his five touchdown receptions have come on deep (20-plus) or medium (10-19) range throws.

A big part of the reason for that is his yards after catch. PFF says he has 578 yards after the catch, the third most in the league behind only Cooper Kupp (661) and Chris Godwin (588). 

San Francisco also tries to get it to him early in downs. According to Stathead, 49 percent of his receptions have come on first down, and 64.4 percent of the passing plays have come with the team needing between seven and 10 yards to go for the first down. When he makes a reception, there’s usually a good chance his team will be moving the chains, as he gained a first down on 40.4 percent of his plays, per Stathead.

As of late, the 49ers have used him more on the ground than through the air. Over his past four games, he has seven receptions for 109 yards and no touchdowns, while he’s rushed 28 times for five touchdowns and 211 yards. However, over his first 10 games of the season, he caught 54 passes for 979 yards and only rushed 11 times for 58 yards and two scores.

The last game seemed to be his most balanced of the season. Against the Falcons, he had 60 receiving yards on four catches and 29 rushing yards on six carries, the only time this season he’s had at least four carries and four receptions.

As the season winds down and the 49ers continue to find themselves in the playoff chase, expect to see more games like that from Shanahan, where he maximizes Samuel in their remaining schedule. He has been a vital piece of the puzzle so far this season, and the 49ers might have even more ways of using him as the campaign finishes.

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