Injuries halted what could have been a breakout 2020 campaign for 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, but look for that to pick up in 2021.
In an odd way, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel‘s 2020 offseason Jones fracture in his foot was an ominous sign of things to come.
Not just for himself, but the entire Niners team.
A year removed from his impressive rookie campaign after being selected by San Francisco at No. 36 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft out of South Carolina, one which saw him net 961 all-purpose yards and six total touchdowns, Samuel suffering his injury during impromptu offseason workouts was a significant blow and one which arguably created more injury-related ramifications over the course of 2021.
Cutting into any hopes for a breakout sophomore year.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
His foot fracture forced him out of the first three games of the year, then a hamstring injury happened in Week 7, followed by Samuel missing the final three games of 2020 with injuries, too.
But while Samuel does have a bit of an injury reputation, San Francisco’s overwhelming rash of injuries last year can at least help cover up some of the concerns surrounding Samuel’s durability heading into 2021.
Based solely on the law of averages, right?
If so, Samuel’s massive breakout campaign could end up taking place a year later instead, and the 49ers clearly want that to be the case.
Why Deebo Samuel breaks out with 49ers in 2021
True, Samuel got off to a slowish start his rookie season. But after hitting his stride midway through 2020, fans got to see the kind of dual-threat impact the wide receiver could have, both as a speedy and physical pass-catcher and a legitimate rushing weapon, often used on jet sweeps and end-arounds like the video below:
“As long as he can stay healthy” might be used to describe a breakout-kind of year, so let’s just assume that for a massive 2021 campaign here.
But the bigger element should be consistency and health across the board.
For starters, the Niners were forced to use three different quarterbacks last year, which certainly didn’t help matters when Samuel was on the field and trying to contribute. While San Francisco has a quarterback competition between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance, some consistency under center should only serve to do Samuel and the 49ers’ remaining pass-catchers some good.
On top of that, 2021 could mark the year in which the offense features a fully healthy trio of receiving weapons. Last year, the Niners were without All-Pro tight end George Kittle for eight games and missed fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk for four.
While Kittle and Aiyuk will take touches away from Samuel, they’ll also take a lot of pressure off him, too. Some could argue Aiyuk, the second-year pro, is already tabbed as WR1 on the depth chart, and Samuel getting more of those one-on-one opportunities should help further his impact.
Potentially on the path to a 1,000-yard receiving season.
Why Deebo Samuel struggles with 49ers in 2021
It still comes back to the injury factor here, unfortunately, and it would be irresponsible to say it’s not a concern whatsoever.
Samuel’s injury history dates back to his time at South Carolina where he dealt with hamstring issues and also a broken leg back in 2017.
Related Story: 49ers’ 5 biggest injury risks heading into 2021
According to Sports Injury Predictor, Samuel is projected to miss 2.6 games with injuries this season, which isn’t great. But the only hope, at least using last year as a split measure, is even a 14- or 15-game season from Samuel would be enough for him to reach that 1,000-yard plateau.
Deebo Samuel’s projected outlook, impact for 49ers this season
It doesn’t quite matter as much exactly who assumes the WR1 spot on the depth chart, perhaps only to other teams who might be using an extra defensive back to cover over the top.
If Aiyuk is the primary wide receiving focus of the defense, the opportunities for Samuel could open up in great fashion, potentially propelling him above 1,000 receiving yards and possibly opening up even more on the ground, should head coach Kyle Shanahan continue to use him that way, and it’s likely that’ll be the case.
While it might be a bit of a stretch to see Samuel net 1,400 all-purpose yards in 2021, the opportunity should be there.
If he stays healthy, of course. That’s always going to be the kicker, and it can be hard for a player with injury concerns to shake that association.
Still, a fully revamped offense opens up the door for Samuel to have the kind of impact many across the league felt he would a year ago.
And if he seizes it, San Francisco’s offense could go back to being one of the more explosive units within the NFC like it was back in 2019 during Samuel’s rookie year.