When analyzing the 2019 rookie receiving class, N’Keal Harry is the clear favorite to finish as the highest fantasy scorer. What about the two spot, though? In this debate article, Matthew Jackson states his case for Deebo Samuel to finish as runner-up to Harry, while Cody Kutzer argues against it. Here we go!
When attempting to predict potential rookie production there are generally three main categories I look for: college production, measurables, and landing spot. While it is impossible to say with certainty which rookies will be productive out of the gate, I have found the more a player meets these criteria the greater shot they have to be successful early. Take players like Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones for example. Both of these receivers had breakout college production in their junior season, put up great combine stats, and had a favorable landing spot where their skillset was utilized. On the other side of these receivers, one receiver in particular, Corey Davis, had record-breaking college production, a good combine, but landed on a team with a Quarterback that is not able to fully utilize his ability. Outside of the consensus top receiver Harry, there is perhaps no wide receiver in this year’s class that meets the above criteria better than Deebo Samuel. It is because of this that I would argue that Samuel will finish as the runner-up in fantasy points out of the rookie wide receivers.
While injuries derailed two years of Samuel’s college career, his 2016 and 2018 seasons gave us a glimpse into the receiver that Samuel can be. In 2016, Samuel led his team in receiving, finishing the season with 59 receptions for 783 yards. His best season came in 2018 where he finished the season with 1,478 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns. This was good enough to make him a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC.
At the NFL Combine, Deebo Samuel measured in at 5’11” 214 pounds with 10” hands. While this height put him as one of the shorter wide receivers, his weight put him in the 78th percentile of wide receivers tested. Over the course of his college career, Samuel used every bit of his weight to punish defensive backs, a trait he should carry over into his professional career. His hand size placed him in the 86th percentile of wide receivers tested, and you see this frequently in his game tape as he consistently wins in contested catch situations. During his 40 yard dash, Samuel clocked in at 4.48 seconds, which shows he has the long speed to take the ball to the house. Finally, Deebo Samuel tested with 39” on the vertical jump and 122” on the broad jump, good enough to land him in the 87th and 62nd percentile showing he has the lower body explosiveness to carry to the next level. These combine measurables show Deebo Samuel has the ability to be a productive wide receiver at the next level.
Arguably the most important criteria for immediate production is landing spot, and Samuel might have received one of the best ones. While some would argue that he was thrust into a loaded pass catching room, I would argue his situation is not as bleak as it would appear. Outside of George Kittle, no pass catcher has established their role on the 49ers offense. In 2018 there was not a pass catcher other than Kittle who had over 500 receiving yards. On top of this, no pass catcher on the 49ers roster caught over five touchdowns. With an up and coming quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo coming back from injury and no pass catcher outside of Kittle with an established role, I would argue that Samuel has as decent a shot as any receiver on the 49ers roster to establish a role. For these reasons, Deebo Samuel has the best shot at finishing runner-up in rookie wide receiver production.
The crux of the argument against Samuel finishing as the second-highest rookie receiver is a simple one: opportunity. Samuel will have to fight for targets amongst George Kittle, a (presumably) healthy Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, and fellow rookie Jalen Hurd as an offensive chess piece. If that wasn’t enough to worry about, how about adding in the running backs? Over the past four years in the Kyle Shanahan offense (his time with Atlanta and San Francisco), there has been an average of 132 targets distributed to players residing in the backfield. Even though Shanahan is typically associated with a prolific passing offense, his teams have ranked higher than 17th in passing touchdowns just once in the last four years (2nd in 2016, with an MVP season from Matt Ryan).
The 49ers also spent a lot of offseason capital on defense, bringing in linebackers Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, cornerback Jason Verrett, and taking Nick Bosa with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft. The improved defense lends itself to an increase in rushing attempts, potentially taking away volume from the passing game. After just signing Jerrick McKinnon as a free agent in 2018, the 49ers went out and plucked Tevin Coleman from the free agency pile. Matt Breida recently stated not only will all three of the running backs have roles, but they’ll all be used extensively. Over the same four year period previously mentioned, a Kyle Shanahan offense has been lower than 12th in rushing touchdowns just once (30th in 2018).
What all this means is Samuel will have to be the alpha receiver in Shanahan’s offense in order to fulfill the fantasy finish Matthew foresees. It’s for all of these reasons I don’t believe we’ll see Samuel’s name behind Harry at the end of the 2019 season.
Where do all of you fall in this debate? Drop a comment below or hit us up on Twitter!