John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Frelund names Deebo Samuel as 49ers’ most underappreciated player

Jun 3, 2021 at 1:30 PM--

NFL Network analyst Cynthia Frelund released this year's list of the NFL's most underappreciated players, naming one player from each of the 32 teams.

"First, I calculated and then ranked each player's season-long contribution metric by team," explained Frelund. "To sum it up without getting overly technical, contribution metric measures each player's production during the 2020 season. The metric encompasses a value for every snap by each player and reveals each player's contribution to the team's overall win total."

Player salary and other metrics factored into each choice.

Frelund's pick for the San Francisco 49ers is third-year wide receiver Deebo Samuel, a second-round pick in 2019. Samuel was in and out of the lineup last season due to injuries and earned just 391 receiving yards and a touchdown on 33 catches through seven game appearances. That followed a strong rookie campaign that saw the wideout haul in 57 passes for 802 yards and three scores.

Samuel's 12.2 yards after the catch per reception last season ranked fourth among wide receivers, per Pro Football Focus. His 9.8 yards after the catch per reception over his first two seasons leads all wide receivers.

"Here's an awesome Next Gen Stat: In his injury-abbreviated 2020 campaign, Samuel was the only receiver to earn more YAC (406) than actual receiving yards (391)," wrote Frelund. "Pro Football Focus shows that he cut down on the drops, going from 10 (on 77 targets) as a rookie to three (on 44 targets) last season. Per NGS, Samuel logged 13 receptions, 197 yards and a touchdown on 15 crossing-route targets for a 141.0 passer rating when targeted on such passes."

Frelund loves the possibilities that Samuel opens up for head coach Kyle Shanahan, who enjoys drawing up plays for his versatile receiver and utilizing the receiver in various ways.

"I love pre-snap motion for this offense -- it's a catalyst for efficiency, given the types of run and play-action concepts that define Kyle Shanahan's attack," Frelund continued. "I think this will be important for whoever is playing QB in 2021, with Samuel on the move on 26.1 percent of snaps last season (the fourth-highest rate among WRs).

"Samuel's route tree was really interesting in 2020, with 22.7 percent crossing routes, 20.3 go routes and 10.5 hitches -- no other route reached 10 percent. In other words, I'm really excited to see how Samuel evolves with a new passing coordinator -- and quite possibly a new quarterback, depending on Trey Lance's readiness."

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