It’s been quite the year for wide receivers having breakout seasons. We’ve seen impressive showings so far from guys like Cooper Kupp and Michael Pittman, who have been clicking with their new quarterbacks in Los Angeles and Indianapolis. There have also been guys like CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III, who seem to have made their way into their respective teams’ WR1 spots in their sophomore campaigns.
Though apart from Kupp, none of those other receivers are having the exponential explosion in production the way Deebo Samuel has this season.
The 49ers’ third-year receiver has already surpassed his previous career-high in receiving yards with 819 in just seven games, good enough for second in the league. In fact, no San Francisco wideout in history has recorded as many receiving yards through a season’s first seven games as Samuel has. What’s more, he’s the only receiver in this season’s top-five yardage leaders through eight weeks to already have had his bye week. Samuel also leads the NFL in yards per game (117) and yards per touch (16.8). If he keeps up the pace, the third-year receiver will break the single-season receiving yards record in 17 games, 35 yards past Calvin Johnson’s 2012 season mark of 1,964 yards.
To put it in perspective how big of a leap this year has been for him, consider the fact that he only played in seven games last year due to lower-body injuries. In those seven games, Samuel totaled 391 yards and a single touchdown on 33 receptions. In the same sample size that we have for 2021, he has more than doubled his receiving yardage and quadrupled his receiving touchdown count on just 11 additional catches. He’s even had a rushing touchdown sprinkled in there this season.
You want some other fun facts about how out-of-nowhere this season seems to be for the former second-round pick? If you take Samuel’s final yards per game tallies from the last two seasons and add them together (just for fun, because why not), they still add up to fewer yards per game than his 2021 level of production. He’s also already matched his receiving touchdown total from his first two years combined.
Alright, so we’ve established that this season has been an incredible breakout for Samuel, but we should also discuss where he falls in the ranking of all wide receivers right now.
At the top, you’ve got the elite guys like Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and Stefon Diggs (Michael Thomas too, but he hasn’t been healthy). These are guys that have been a problem in the NFL for several years now, hard to defend before and after the catch, and great pairings with their talented quarterbacks. And yet, Samuel has been out-gaining them all season with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance under center. He’s the only receiver with three games of more than 150 receiving yards, he’s got the second-most receiving yards in the league, and he also leads all NFL receivers in yards after catch with 416 (more than half of his total yardage). His skill there is unquestionable with stats like that and plays like this:
The South Carolina product is also an elite-level deep-ball receiver. No player in the NFL with 15 or more targets on deep throws—in this case, pass attempts of 15+ yards—has caught a higher percentage of them than Samuel. Only three of the 18 deep targets to Samuel have been incomplete.
For now, it may be too early to put Samuel among the top tier of receivers with a short, explosive sample that could fade in the next 10 weeks. He still has to face good pass-defending teams like the Arizona Cardinals (again) and Los Angeles Rams (twice), after all. But if he continues at this incredible pace for the rest of the season, he’ll have to be in the conversation for All-Pro honors, and he’d have a more secure spot near the top.