Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Reminiscent of 49ers legend Roger Craig, Deebo Samuel likely to evolve his skill position

Jan 21, 2022 at 11:39 AM--

Throughout its illustrious history, the beauty of the NFL is that it lives up to the oft-repeated cliche, "It is a copycat league." Seemingly without fail, either an innovative head coach or a uniquely talented player comes along and changes the way the game is played. Sometimes the perfect match happens when a franchise has both an otherworldly brilliant head coach and an uber gifted athlete. It appears that the San Francisco 49ers have found this magic mix for a second time. The first during their dynasty of the 80s, when innovative head coach Bill Walsh began using the "first of his kind" running back Roger Craig as a weapon in the passing game. Today, the combination of the ever-creative 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is paired with the insanely talented wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Samuel is the 49ers "do-it-all'' wide receiver whose rare skill set and productivity this season is likely to change how the wide receiver position is played and the natural abilities that teams will covet from players that typically line up on the outside. The similarities between how Samuel is primed to change what organizations look for in the wide receiver position and how Craig led to the evolution of the running back position are nearly identical.

Typically, good college players who become great NFL players tend to show flashes of their full potential during their college playing career. However, some scouting department see something on film that they could use to their advantage from a player that maybe didn't show up on the stat sheet. This applies to both Craig and Samuel. Craig caught only 16 passes for 102 yards during his four years at the University of Nebraska. Ironically, Samuel recorded a lowly 25 rushing attempts for 154 yards during his four-year collegiate career at the University of South Carolina. A look at those numbers showed no indication that Craig would lead the NFL in receptions with 92 in the 1985 season and that Samuel would be amongst the leaders in the NFL this year with a 6.2-yard-per-carry average. Thanks to Shanahan today and Walsh before him, coaches will be forced to utilize a player's full skill set to keep pace.

Walsh, the West Coast Offense mastermind, worked tirelessly to find mismatches that his offense could exploit en route to building the 49ers dynasty of the 80s. To that end, in 1985, Craig became the first player in NFL history to have both 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving in the same season. To put that milestone in context, the rare feat has only been accomplished twice in the 37 seasons that have followed. Marshall Faulk in 1999 and Christian McCaffrey in 2019. Craig's production began to usher in the use of the term "all-purpose yards." In 1988 Craig was voted the Offensive Player of the Year as well as being selected First Team All Pro when he posted another season of 2,000 all purpose yards. Craig finished that season with 1,502 rushing yards and 534 receiving yards for a total of 2,036 scrimmage yards.

Under Shanahan's innovative play-calling, Samuel broke a team record for receiving yards through the first seven games of this season with 819. Two weeks later, in Week 10, Samuel's usage in the offense expanded as he began seeing more time in the 49ers backfield. Before the new role, he had only carried the ball six times for 22 yards and one touchdown. Over the last nine weeks, including the playoffs, Samuel has rushed the ball 53 times for 343 yards and seven touchdowns. On the season, he has amassed 1,770 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns. Like Craig in 1988, Samuel was voted a first-team All-Pro this season.

Before Craig, a running back's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield was not something that improved his draft stock while being scouted. But as more and more teams started to imitate the West Coast Offense, Craig's skill set became more and more coveted. His style of play revolutionized the position that was once known for the perfect blend of brute strength and blazing speed. Craig's style of play led to the terms "every-down back" and "third-down back" when discussing the position. Both speak to a player's ability or inability to catch the ball out of the backfield. When you couple this impact with his production and what he meant to the 49ers championship teams of the 80s, many football fans, and 49er fans in particular, feel that Craig should be in the Hall of Fame.

As for Samuel, his skill set is very likely to be the newest sought-after commodity for wide receivers coming into the draft for years to come. With more and more teams running versions of Shanahan's offense, one thing is for sure—both Samuel and 49ers fans hope that his talent plays a key role in leading the team to championships, much like Craigs' did during his days with the 49ers.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • NinerJimDFW
    Come see us at 'Elect Roger Craig to the NFL Hall of fame' on FB. Many of Roger's friends, fans, and family are here, working to get him in.
    Jan 24, 2022 at 5:37 AM
  • Joss
    2000 yards from scrimmage has been hit 70 times (pardon me for not taking the time to count the exact # of players who have done it, as there are quite a few who hit the milestone multiple times). Jim Brown was the first in 1963 with 2131. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/yds_from_scrimmage_single_season.htm
    Jan 21, 2022 at 9:05 PM

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