Fantasy Court: The Case Against Deebo Samuel in 2021
Look, I get it. Deebo Samuel — when active — is a man among boys. He had a mini breakout rookie campaign in 2019 where he scored six times and nearly hit 1K all-purpose yards despite missing a game and exiting early in two others. He’s a yards after catch (YAC) monster. He’s utilized all over the field, not just as a receiver but as a rusher too. He even has a super cool name. But unlike what our beloved Smash Mouth once taught us, all that glitters is NOT gold, and the same can be said about Samuel at his current ADP (7.06) for the 2021 fantasy football redraft season.
Not All Yards Are Created Equal
Tyshun Raequan “Deebo” Samuel is a bona fide PLAYMAKER, leading the league last season in YAC per reception at 12.1. In other words, he reigned supreme over ALL players in a stat that typically favors dynamic RBs (FYI, the next best WR was Cam Sims at 7.8). But therein lies the rub — he’s not catching anything past the line of scrimmage. Samuel primarily saw handoffs and screen passes, resulting in a piss-poor average depth of target (aDOT) of just 2.2 yards, which was the WORST among all wideouts. In fact, he was the only WR to average NEGATIVE yards before catch per reception (YBC/R) at -0.2, meaning the only targets he actually caught were already hindered with negative yardage, aka negative points on your lineup.
In fantasy football, the best receivers are those who catch a high volume of passes that traveled in the air for long distances (i.e., high YBC) AND are capable of generating big plays once the ball is in their hands (i.e., high YAC). After all, total receiving yards in their rudimentary form are simply YBC + YAC. While Samuel’s latter numbers are outstanding, he desperately needs helps with the former in order to fully break out as a top WR. Just take a look at 2020’s leaders in YBC compared to Samuel:
Samuel is clearly a beast after the catch, but he’ll need to rely on his outstanding playmaking abilities if he continues to only see spitballs while second-year Brandon Aiyuk hogs all the valuable targets (7.7 YBC/R, 9.4 aDOT). Speaking of which…
Too Many Cooks
If we assume that Samuel will be healthy and active for the entire season, then we must also assume the same for rising stud Aiyuk and lovable TE George Kittle. In this case, history shows that Samuel will not see enough valuable targets to consistently produce as a reliable fantasy option. Due to injuries, this trio has only played four full games together, and just two with incumbent QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
Here’s what they averaged in those four games (Weeks 4-7):
Despite being a rookie who had to learn a complex system during a truncated offseason while suffering a hamstring strain that ruled him out of the season opener, Kyle Shanahan and company were more than happy to deploy their shiny new first-round pick. Aiyuk saw more snaps and had nearly the same amount of targets as Samuel, but Aiyuk’s targets were clearly more valuable with a supreme aDOT of 13.2 compared to Samuel’s laughable 1.9. Meanwhile, Kittle remains the target hog, though Aiyuk could certainly challenge that this year.
From Weeks 7-15, Aiyuk went nuclear and averaged 17.1 PPG, which ranked third behind only phenoms Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill. By the way, those guys finished as the season’s overall WR1 & WR2, respectively. Aiyuk obviously benefitted from Samuel and Kittle’s absences as they each only played three more games due to their own injuries, but it takes a truly elite player to capitalize against top corners under the national spotlight. And again, he was only a rookie. The 49ers coaching staff undoubtedly took notice, and in year two Aiyuk will have a decent chance to break out as Shanahan’s coveted X receiver who could explode any given week.
To be fair, Samuel will likely continue to see manufactured touches all around the field and will absolutely have his own share of boom weeks. But it will be a challenge to determine when those weeks are because the offense simply cannot produce enough fantasy points for more than one receiver each week. Not so fun fact: Jimmy G has NEVER been able to support more than one top-24 WR in any game of his entire career in San Francisco. Seriously, go through every one of his 27 full games played with the 49ers since he was traded in 2017, and you won’t be able to find a single week where two or more of his WRs finished in the top-24. And chances are slim that rookie QB Trey Lance will be able to change this in his inaugural season, whenever he presumably takes over the helm.
Dropping the Ball
It’s not a huge cause for concern yet, but Samuel has exhibited issues with dropped passes. He averaged 6.8% drops per target in 2020, which was the 12th highest among WRs. As bad as this was (and on such limited gameplay), it was surprisingly an improvement to his abysmal rookie year where he dropped 11.1% of his targets, which was the 2nd most behind only recently retired Ted Ginn Jr. While this is #NBDbutKBD, we need to keep in mind that football is a brutal, unforgiving business where players have opportunities given and taken away without a moment’s notice. As a forlorn Dante Pettis knows all too well, Shanahan is no stranger to tough love as he once publicly blasted the former prospect by stating, “He’s had his opportunities. The more he doesn’t take advantage of his opportunities, the less opportunities he gets.”
Deebo Samuel has a decent ADP in the middle of the seventh round, but the odds aren’t in his favor for him to produce consistently enough to be a dependable, weekly starter. Unfortunately, he has to deal with an unreliable QB, crowded receiving room, drop issues, and not to mention an alarming injury history. I’d rather take a gamble on someone like Robby Anderson, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, or grab an RB flyer like Damien Harris or David Johnson, all of whom are going after Samuel. Heck, you could even secure your QB position with a stud like last year’s MVP Aaron Rodgers or Super Bowl champ (and possibly Andy’s “My Guy“) Tom Brady. Samuel is great to watch, great for the 49ers, great for real-life football, and could be a great dynasty asset. But for 2021 redraft at his current cost? No thanks.