49ers roster: Deebo Samuel will carry unprecedented attention in 2022

Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /
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49ers All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel became a household name in 2021, but now he’ll face the pressure of living up to that reputation moving forward.

The San Francisco 49ers faced something of an unknown future with wide receiver Deebo Samuel entering 2021.

Samuel, the Niners’ Round 2 NFL Draft pick in 2019 out of South Carolina, was coming off an injury-plagued year that first got off to a bad start when he suffered a Jones fracture in his foot during the offseason, then missed a total of nine games during the regular season in light of both foot and hamstring issues.

Following 2020, it was fair to wonder whether or not Samuel would be a productive offensive commodity despite his promising rookie year and in light of his more recent injuries.

Well, 2021 happened. And in a big way.

Deebo Samuel Receiving & Rushing Table
Game Game Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rece Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush
Year Age Tm G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD 1D Y/G Ctch% Rush Yds TD 1D Y/A Y/G
2019 23 SFO 15 11 81 57 802 14.1 3 32 53.5 70.4% 14 159 3 5 11.4 10.6
2020 24 SFO 7 5 44 33 391 11.8 1 19 55.9 75.0% 8 26 0 1 3.3 3.7
2021*+ 25 SFO 16 15 121 77 1405 18.2 6 51 87.8 63.6% 59 365 8 21 6.2 22.8
Career Career 38 31 246 167 2598 15.6 10 102 68.4 67.9% 81 550 11 27 6.8 14.5

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 7/19/2022.

Samuel getting off to a red-hot start despite the Niners’ own early season woes was a joy to see. And while his receiving numbers took a slight dip in the second half of the year, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s choice to turn the receiver into a “wide back” and feature him in the ground game led to one of the more unique deployments of an offensive player in recent NFL history.

All told, Samuel finished 2021 with 1,770 all-purpose yards, third most in the league, and 14 net touchdowns, which rightfully cemented him as both a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro.

However, as fans should easily recall, Samuel’s offseason was marred more by contract standoffs, trade requests and a desire not to be used as a wide back so much any longer.

While the two sides are hopefully getting closer to a resolution, there’s one glaring point to notice: Samuel is no longer flying under the radar.

Heading into year four, let’s take a look at what it’ll mean for Samuel to have a proverbial “target on his back” and whether or not he can live up to what are likely some lofty expectations in 2022.