Deebo Samuel became a multi-threat superstar and a First Team All-Pro for the San Francisco 49ers in 2021.
Now everybody is going to want one.
Samuel became the focal point of the 49ers’ offense last year as the NFL’s latest version of a “slash” player – an adjective coined by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1990s to describe Kordell Stewart as a dual-threat quarterback when that was mostly unheard of in the league.
In Samuel’s case, he became a hybrid wide receiver/running back, a “slash” lining up at wide receiver, in the slot, and at running back. Defenses had to prepare for Samuel coming out of the backfield, running jet sweeps, or catching passes out of the slot and becoming Jimmy Garroppolo’s primary target with a 28% target share – regardless of position.
The result for the 49ers was a team-high 1,405 receiving yards, 365 rushing yards, and 14 total touchdowns. The result for Samuel was a $73 million contract extension during the offseason.
From a points-per-game standpoint, Samuel was the third-best receiver in fantasy football, even if that description is a little misleading. Samuel averaged 19.8 points per game behind only Cooper Kupp (25.9 ppg) and Davante Adams (20.3 ppg) in NFL.com PPR leagues.
Samuel finished the season with 136 total touches (77 receptions and 59 rushing attempts).
The NFL has long been a copycat league. If there is a reasonable facsimile of Samuel out there, coaches will find and deploy him.
So, who are the top candidates to expand their roles to fit the Deebo mold and surprise fantasy owners this season?
The Titans selected Treylon Burks, the most Deebo Samuel-like player in this year’s NFL Draft
The rookie out of Arkansas was the most Deebo-like player in April’s NFL Draft. The Titans traded for Robert Woods and drafted Treylon Burks to replace A.J. Brown, who was traded to Philadelphia.
Burks had 67 catches for 1,123 yards with 11 touchdowns to go with 14 rushes for 112 yards and a score during his all-SEC final season with the Razorbacks.
An NFL scouting report on Burks read: “Aligns all over the formation for Arkansas. The team tried to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
Without diminishing all-pro running back Derrick Henry, the Titans have the chance to use Burks similarly.
The Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson has already been doing Deebo things
Cordarrelle Patterson has been in the NFL for a decade, mainly as a kick returner and receiver.
The Atlanta Falcons and first-year head coach Arthur Smith changed that last year when they put the “slash” on Patterson’s NFL resume.
Patterson spent most of his time at running back in 2021, and his rushing yardage (618) actually outpaced his receiving production (548 yards). His 205 total touches were by far the most of his career, as were his 11 touchdowns, all of which came on the ground.
But Patterson is 31 years old this season and could be more valuable for the Falcons and fantasy football owners as a versatile WR/RB hybrid if the combination of free agent Damien Williams and rookie fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier can steady the running game with new quarterback Marcus Mariota.
An expanded role for Nyheim Hines could help the Colts
The Indianapolis Colts have their star running back in Jonathan Taylor, the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy this season.
So, the question is, can the Colts be better with more packages for Nyheim Hines? Hines had only 96 touches last season, down from 152 in 2020. He finished with 586 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns as Taylor carried the load.
Colts head coach Frank Reich has already stated in preseason interviews that he wants to expand Hines’ role this season with new quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw to his backs more than any other quarterback (8.6 targets per game), while with the Falcons in 2021.
“If I was going to be in a fantasy league, I think I would pick Nyheim this year,” Reich said.
While Taylor is the undisputed man in the Colts backfield, Indy is unproven and oft-injured at wide receiver behind third-year wideout Michael Pittman expected to have a breakout season as a No. 1 with injury-prone Parris Campbell and rookie Alec Pierce out of Cincinnati.
So, adding packages with Hines in the slot with Taylor on the field makes sense and could be a wrinkle the creative Reich would welcome to his playbook.
Fantasy owners would welcome the move for Hines as a potential flex option.
Tyreek Hill could be even more dangerous with the Dolphins
New Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel was the offensive coordinator that helped Kyle Shanahan turn Samuel into a weapon in San Francisco.
The people who hired McDaniel in Miami then paid former Chiefs all-pro receiver Tyreek Hill – demonstrably the fastest player in the NFL – a dump truck full of money to help make the Dolphins offense go.
In Miami, Hill finds a situation similar to the one Samuel and McDaniel faced a year with the 49ers – no bell cow running back and a somewhat limited quarterback.
The Dolphins will want dividends from Hill’s $120 million contract, and McDaniel will be expected to find ways to get “The Cheetah” the ball. If that means lining Hill up in the pistol, the slot, or in the wildcat, that very well could occur.
Hill will be expected to make an impact, and expanding his role will make that happen.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference