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There’s a common term among the fantasy football community: “third-year-breakout wide receiver.” It implies, obviously, that the third year of a career is when most wide receivers realize their potential. One guy who embodied that: San Francisco 49ers WR Deebo Samuel.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, Samuel had just under 1,400 scrimmage yards in his first two years across 22 games played. But in his third year, Samuel more than doubled his career figure.
The former Gamecock amassed over 1,400 yards receiving alone and added 365 rushing yards. He scored 14 touchdowns.
Following that season, Samuel was eligible for a contract extension on his rookie deal. And the negotiation did not go smoothly. At one point, Samuel demanded that the 49ers trade him.
They did not, and the sides eventually agreed on three-year extension worth $73.5 million. But Samuel admits that the contentious negotiations lingered into his offseason training and then into training camp.
According to ESPN, Samuel said he came into last season in less than tip-top shape and felt sluggish early.
He watched tape of the season recently with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. And he didn’t like what he saw.
“We talked about it, we put it behind us and [were] just going through the tape and just look how sluggish and how bad it looked on tape,” Samuel said. “I never will put nothing like that back on tape again.”
That led to Samuel’s complete assessment of last season: “It was awful,” he said.
Reporters asked in what ways did he consider the season “awful”?
“Every aspect,” Samuel replied.
Deebo Samuel struggled to replicate his incredible 2021-22 season with the San Francisco 49ers
Following an All-Pro season as a “third-year-breakout wide receiver,” Samuel did not come close to matching that production in his fourth season.
The newly-paid Samuel struggled, posting just 864 scrimmage yards. It was the second-worst of his career, only besting his injury-plagued second season.
The team acquired running back Christian McCaffrey prior to the NFL trade deadline. They did so, in part, because Samuel wasn’t doing all of the things he had done a season prior.
But the team is counting on him to bounce back in 2023-24. With an unsettled quarterback position, they need everything they can get from Samuel, McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle.
If those three guys play to their capabilities, it doesn’t matter nearly as much who is playing quarterback.
And that’s good news because it could be Sam Darnold.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on X – formerly known as Twitter: @RealDanZak