Deebo Samuel was instrumental in the San Francisco 49ers securing home-field advantage in the postseason, his performance in their Week 17 win over the Seattle Seahawks providing the most compelling evidence of why the rookie wide receiver is poised to make a massive playoff impact.
The Niners clung on for a dramatic 26-21 victory at CenturyLink Field, clinching their first NFC West title since 2012 as well as a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC circuit. Dre Greenlaw’s fourth-down stop of Jacob Hollister on the Niners’ half-inch line preserved triumph, but San Francisco would not have had a lead to defend if not for a stunning individual performance Samuel.
Samuel caught five passes for 102 yards while also running a reverse in for a 30-yard touchdown. His display earned the second-round pick a Pro Football Network Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grade of 54.83.
OSM uses the NFL’s NextGen Stats and a series of algorithms to calculate a player’s impact on his offense’s production by assessing the factors only he could control. Samuel’s grade indicated an elite level of performance and saw him finish Week 17 as the second-ranked wideout by OSM.
He compiled such impressive numbers by maximizing his yardage gained after the catch and using his route-running abilities to create separation.
Samuel’s college career at South Carolina was defined significantly by the damage he did with the ball in his hands, and his proclivity for earning YAC has translated superbly to the pros.
While many see him as a running back playing receiver because of his apparent love of contact, Samuel possesses much greater elusiveness than he is credited for. The Seahawks found this out in the regular-season finale, as Samuel continually gashed them in the open field. He averaged 13.2 YAC per reception, per NextGen Stats, two yards more than his expected YAC per reception of 11.2
He began torching Seattle in the first quarter on his 30-yard reception on a slant route. By utilizing his underrated speed to escape the clutches of four encircling Seahawks defenders and executing a pair of cuts to make the same defender miss twice in quick succession, Samuel was well on his way to a career night.
The most spectacular example of Samuel’s agility came on the reverse he took to the house. Samuel took advantage of excellent downfield blocking before amazingly keeping his feet in bounds as he delivered a remarkable spin move to make Tre Flowers miss and find the endzone.
Samuel’s speed and change-of-direction skills have helped the 49ers open up Kyle Shanahan’s vast playbook. He is a prominent part of plays utilizing motion and orbit motion while reverses, pop passes, and screens have proven consistently effective with Samuel on the field.
His quickness is also a crucial element of his route-running, and Samuel delivered arguably his best showing of the season in that regard in Seattle.
Samuel operated with an average cushion of 3.5 yards, according to NextGen Stats, but enjoyed 4.5 yards of average separation. The primary reason for this difference was how Samuel continually confounded Shaquil Griffin with his route running.
In the third quarter, Samuel set up the Niners for their second touchdown. He did so by smartly using a hard jab step to his right to force Griffin to surrender inside leverage and separation on a short slant pattern that went for 19 yards.
Griffin was made to look considerably more foolish late in the fourth quarter despite this time refusing to bite on the jab step. Samuel escaped Griffin’s coverage with a superb double move, enabling Jimmy Garoppolo to find him wide open by the sideline for a critical 21-yard third-down connection.
That completion preceded Raheem Mostert’s second score, which ultimately proved decisive thanks to Greenlaw.
In the paramount game of the season, Samuel produced his most influential display. That is an excellent sign for the playoffs, in which his ability to create separation without relying purely on physical gifts and rack up YAC consistently may well again swing the balance in the Niners favor.
George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders figure to be tightly covered in the postseason, making Samuel even more critical to San Francisco’s prospects of the Super Bowl glory. Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk may be the ones who make the Niners offense go, but it is Samuel who provides the extra dimension, and he is hitting peak form at precisely the right time.