The San Francisco 49ers had one of the most prolific offenses in 2021, and Wide Receiver Deebo Samuel was one of the biggest reasons. The self-proclaimed “wide back” moved all around the field, revolutionizing a run-game that stays at the forefront of innovation.
The scheming from now-Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel was brilliant. Samuel would often start outside, then motion back in, giving San Francisco not only a ball carrier, but also a numbers advantage. By lining him up at receiver, defenses would lighten the box, anticipating fewer players in the backfield.
However, Samuel would move in, adding another big body to the running game. This allowed San Francisco to out-muscle weak boxes, while also having one of the most effective zone-rushing schemes.
This success was prevalent late in the season, and it quickly became a habit. Down the stretch, Samuel saw increased snaps at running back, while also being the 49ers’ number one receiver. His ability to create in space was unmatched, but he was just as good in-between the tackles.
Reaping the Benefits of Innovation
This development changed the trajectories of several careers. Samuel is now a total offensive weapon, with the ability to line up anywhere. His value has skyrocketed, and so has his coordinator’s. Mike McDaniel, now seen as an offensive innovator, landed the job he has today, and is entering his first draft combine with Miami.
During this Combine, McDaniel will search for the next player he can maximize. Contrary to popular belief, he won’t be looking for the next Deebo Samuel.
During a combine press conference, McDaniel explained his process for finding players, and how it leads to innovation.
“Deebo wasn’t found by looking for the next Deebo.”Mike McDaniel
This quote, through its simplicity, pushes a point many overlook.
The best coaches in the league don’t look to imitate, but rather innovate. The number one job of a coach is finding places in which their players succeed. This mindset leads to carving out roles for your best athletes, rather than fitting them to a mold.
Before Samuel, this “Wide Back” role on the 49ers didn’t exist. Sure, they used receivers in the run game, but this extent of between-the-tackles action was never before seen. It was only after acquiring Samuel and, more importantly, understanding his skillset, that McDaniel and San Francisco were able to bring this innovation to fruition.
McDaniel and the rest of the league’s best offensive minds will utilize the Combine to envision how players can change them and their schemes, not the other way around. Rather than envisioning how a prospect fits their scheme, they will envision how the player can revolutionize their offenses.
Upon Mike McDaniel’s arrival in Miami, many were looking at how receiver Jaylen Waddle can be “the next Deebo”. His skill set is relatively similar. Both move very well in open space and are dangerous threats in the RAC game. However, that’s about where the comparisons end.
It takes a compact, muscular athlete to run between the tackles, and that’s exactly what Samuel is. Coming in at six feet tall and 216 pounds, he weighs 33 more pounds than Jaylen Waddle — who has his advantages as well.
Waddle, although not as bulky, is significantly faster than Samuel, and moves more with elusiveness — which is exactly what intrigues McDaniel. There is a role that McDaniel sees for Waddle, and it’s clear through his interviews that he’s excited to utilize his explosive skill set. It’s also clear, however, that it won’t involve nearly as much running between the tackles.
As far as the Combine is concerned, fans and media alike have seen Deebo-like traits in receiver Treylon Burks. Coming out of Arkansas, Burks definitely shares some traits with the All-Pro. Both play big and don’t have trouble breaking tackles. However, Burks is built more like an X receiver. Standing at 6’3″ and 225 pounds, it’s clear that their body types aren’t identical.
Burks is regarded as the closest thing to Deebo in the draft, yet the differences are still significant — which is exactly why it’s unfair to both players. Although it didn’t seem this way at first, Deebo Samuel is a generational talent, and has a unique skill set that no players have matched. Burks, on the other hand, has just as much individuality in his skill set and body type. They may look quite similar on paper, but their strengths and weaknesses don’t line up perfectly.
The Bottom Line on The Deebo Samuel Role
It would simply be lazy for someone to try to force Burks or Waddle into the Deebo Samuel role. That role was created for a specific player who is among the most unique in the NFL, which is why it works so well.
Samuel’s ability, when combined with the innovation of McDaniel and Shanahan, is a perfect storm for San Francisco, which brings us to the main point.
The best coaches, although taking some from others, pride themselves on innovation. It’s all about finding the next big thing, and that’s exactly what San Francisco did.
Just like the zone-read or the air-raid, the “wide back” will catch fire across the NFL. While others will attempt to copy it, the innovators will be working hard to find another wrinkle, which separates them from the rest. Defenses are working hard to stop new trends, so it becomes pertinent to find something they haven’t seen before.
“It’s more solving problems in different ways and having different tools and abilities to do so.”Mike McDaniel
Mike McDaniel has equated constructing an offensive gameplan to solving problems, and it shows in his innovation.
Critical thinking brings out the best in top-end offensive minds, and McDaniel came across a gold mine with Samuel. It will be exciting to see what he does next in Miami. How he uses Jaylen Waddle will be on everyone’s mind, as will how Treylon Burks is used with his new team.
However, it’s clear that Deebo Samuel can never be duplicated, and it’s important to recognize and appreciate his greatness.
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