Reception Perception: Deebo Samuel has Clearly Defined Strengths to Craft an NFL Role Around
Note: Since I no longer have access to the necessary college film to chart prospects and their Reception Perception samples, I’ll be taking RP data from the NFL level and using it to frame what we can expect from these incoming rookies and their best role as pro receivers. You can get access to Reception Perception data on the Top 50 NFL receivers in the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit.
The 2019 NFL Draft class contains a number of appealing wide receivers. The more we look at the class, the more it feels like even if we don’t see a bundle of wide receivers go in Round 1, the deck is set for a Round 2 to 3 run.
One of the players who should come off the board during that run is South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel. From from the larger frame of players like Miles Boykin, Kelvin Harmon and other possible Day 2 receivers, Samuel is sub-6-foot while pushing 215 pounds.
With the NFL evolving its approach as a whole on offense the doors have been open for a player like Samuel who doesn’t fit traditional molds. However, Samuel’s film suggests he may have more to unlock than the type of players his body type would usually be cast among. While he carries some flaws, there are enough flashes to think Samuel can develop into a top-three threat in any NFL offense.
Deebo Samuel racked up over 900 yards from scrimmage in his final college season and found the end zone 11 times. He proved to be a big play threat with 16.7 and 14.2 yards per catch in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Since the close of his college career, Samuel has only continued to build momentum. After a strong showing at this year’s Senior Bowl, Samuel tested as a top-25 athlete at the position at the NFL Scouting Combine, per 3 Sigma Athlete.
You can bet that an NFL team will feel quite secure with Samuel’s profile. Organizations like certainty. They like to be able to check boxes off a list. Samuel’s work at South Carolina and throughout the pre-draft process makes him an easy checklist prospect.
If you cut on the Deebo Samuel tape, it won’t take you long to find a strength for him. There is a ton of juice in his lower body and quickness abounds from his game. Not only does this pop up when the ball in his hands, where he’s verifiable difference-maker, but it also shows at the line of scrimmage.
Given his size and how quickly he’s cast as an inside receiver, I was pleasantly surprised with how well Samuel showed releasing off the line. He has a variety of quick-feet based moves to elude defenders before they can get a firm jam on him. Bas on his lower body release moves alone, Samuel could grow into a flanker receiver who sees about 30 percent of his routes against press coverage in the NFL.
It’s unlikely he flushes out the ability to become an X-receiver. While his footwork is strong against press, he left a bit to be desired when it comes to hand technique off the line. He may not have the frame for that and it’s best his next team doesn’t try to fit him where he’s not settled.
His best work will come as an inside receiver at the next level while dabbling at flanker. Playing from the slot will give Samuel the benefit of free releases and facing a high amount of zone coverage. With his ability to win in the open field, that would be huge. Samuel knows how to get open against zone to create space for those opportunities. He shows repeated ability to understand when to sit down in soft zones and timing his routes to arrive in a coverage hole at an opportune moment for a pass to arrive. Samuel could pile up production in a role like the Rams designed for Cooper Kupp (52 percent of routes against zone coverage in 2019).
The question for Samuel’s progression to becoming more than just a bit player is how he’ll separate against man coverage. Much like his work against press, the results here were mixed for me. There are strong routes in his arsenal but on some patterns, particularly go routes and those that require him to come back to the quarterback, there’s far too much wasted motion.
Angular routes like the post and dig that require a snap and quick acceleration are no problem for Samuel. Acceleration is the name of his game. Just like he can quickly get by defenders at the line with footwork alone, he’s a strong separator on angle-based stems. The technical aspects are strong here, in addition to his stop/start athleticism.
Yet, just like with his work against press off the line, there are enough holes on the route tree for Samuel to fall outside the top few tiers of prospects. From a route-runner perspective, he’s more than likely good enough to find and hold a role for several years on an offense. However, that’s unlikely to be as an outside receiver and if those flaws at the top of vertical routes and hand-fighting jams don’t get cleaned up, he’ll always be limited.
While these two players don’t match up for a number of reasons, from a pure separation and route use perspective, Chris Hogan popped into mind based on his Reception Perception metrics. Hogan was mercilessly overrated by the fantasy community the last two years but let us not discount the reality that this player rose from the ranks of the undrafted to become a solid role player for a winning franchise over multiple seasons.
Prior to flopping in 2018, Hogan found success in multiple roles with the Patriots. In 2016 and 2017, Hogan fell between the 50th and 58th percentile in success rate vs. man coverage. He was slightly better than a league-average separator. Samuel is likely to fall around the same based on his college work. Hogan did clear the 70th percentile in success rate vs. zone coverage both seasons and was particularly productive in 2017 when he took more routes from the slot with Julian Edelman on IR. Again, this sounds like Samuel’s career path.
Hogan’s route use in New England also matches up to what I imagine are Samuel’s strengths. You’ll see based on his 2017 Reception Perception charts, Hogan mixes in a healthy amount of posts and digs with his underneath work, while shying away from other downfield patterns and curls.
While the Hogan comparison might not be inspiring for those looking to Samuel as a future fantasy start or something of the like, it paints a picture of how he might best be used. From an absolutely best case scenario, if his few route issues get cleared up at the pros, Pierre Garcon comes to mind as a similarly built flanker receiver who could win at all levels and in the open field.
Garcon turned into a strikingly strong separator as a flanker, especially on those routes that Samuel will be best used on, as shown above. In 2016 Garcon posted a 74 percent success rate vs. man coverage, a 94th percentile score. Samuel would need to iron out those holes in his route tree to reach that level. It’s safer to project him as more of a role player than truly strong route-to-route starter like Garcon, even if it’s something to aspire to in a peak outcome.
The appeal for Deebo Samuel is obvious. He’s a player dripping with acceleration who plays physical in several sectors of the game. When he faces zone coverage, he can find the holes and isn’t totally lost on the outside when he can release on his terms before breaking into a handful of routes he knows how to win on.
Limitations in his game have him outside the top few tiers of receivers for me and I’d bet if he ends up finding his way to a long career in the NFL, it’s as a role player who starts in 11-personnel packages in a utilization plan a coach crafted to fit his route strengths. If my team didn’t need a featured receiver and was perhaps even strong at both the No. 1 and 2 position, I’d be comfortable with Samuel as a Day 2 pick to add flavor to the receiver room.